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The Place Where St. Petersburg Bares It All
By Irina Titova: Staff Writer
Welcome to the Dunes nude beach in Sestroretsk (Leningrad Region), about 30 kilometers northwest of St. Petersburg, where the only mandatory attire for the roughly 2,000 people who show up on sunny weekends is a confident smile.
Galina Rybina, 44, stands at the edge of the beach joyfully stretching her arms toward the warm sun and running sand between her toes. The sky is clear, the air is warm and Rybina is completely naked. "You know, I think a nude body is more chaste than many revealing bathing suits that are designed to provoke desire," Rybina says, bathing her tanned body in the soft rays of the evening sun.
All around her, nude men, women and children frolic in the sand and water. Others lay along the 150-meter stretch of beach basking in the sun's rays. Not a tan line is in sight.
The first local pioneers of the self-titled naturism movement appeared at the Dunes as early as 1957 or 1958, said Alexander Kotzov, president of the St. Petersburg-based National Federation of Naturism, a private organization that supports and promotes naturism and nude recreation. "For me personally, [naturism] expands the borders of my inner freedom," Kotzov said. The federation oversees an 800-strong membership of nude bathers, all of whom receive identification cards. Photography on the beach is prohibited without special permission, to protect the rights of the bathers. The nudist community also works hard to minimize the intrusion of hecklers and peeping toms. "We have a safe atmosphere here, and there's no sex on the beach, as some people may think," Kotzov says. He emphasized in a recent interview at the beach that one does not have to be a member of the federation to come and skinny dip. Everyone is welcome.
The atmosphere at the Dunes has not always been so relaxed, says veteran naturist Kirill Vasilyev, 42, who made his first trip to this beach with his mother in 1973. "I still remember times when the police rounded us up for infringing of the law," Vasilyev says. "The police used to make special raids to the area to catch nudists and fine them," he says. Back then, being arrested at the Dunes and other nude beaches in Russia such as Serebrany Bor in Moscow meant not only paying a fine but also the possibility of trouble at work. The authorities normally informed on nude hooligans — as they were called — at their places of employment. Such reports usually led to petty harassment such as ineligibility for business trips or losing access to other company perks.
That changed in 1986, a year after Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev ushered in a more relaxed political atmosphere and the raids by police stopped, according to Kotzov. In 1992, the enthusiasts managed to register their federation, and the beach — nestled between two resorts and enveloped by a pine forest — was granted official status. According to Kotzov, most of the bathers who come to the beach are 30 to 40 years old. "That is probably the age when, psychologically speaking, people are willing to try something new," he says. "I don't think young people are ready to take the psychological step."
Many of the beach-goers told stories of their first experiences at the beach. Eleonora, 40, an engineer who would not to give her last name, has been coming to the beach since 1986. "Nudity gives me more sun and liberates me from that wet rag called a bathing suit," she says, relaxing near the water's edge. Vasilyev says that he once tried swimming in a pool with a pair of trunks and found them to be like a heavy protective covering.
Sergei Nikitenko, a former submarine officer, says he comes to the beach to "revive his soul," but he notes that it is not for everyone. "Naturism requires considerable efforts of the will in order to step over social and psychological boundaries," Nikitenko says. "For instance, although I've been a nudist for 12 years, I still can't bring my wife into the movement. She came here once and took off the upper part of her bathing suit but never did that again," he says.
Others, though, were fortunate enough to find their soul-mates lying naked on the sand at the Dunes. Rybina, for example, met her husband on the beach. "I went swimming and found a nice little island. I was laying there and enjoying the waves," she says. "Then a stranger swam up to me. … The next day we got married and have been living together for four years." As she spoke, she pointed out her tanned husband lying nearby.
Over time, the beach has started gaining some renown. "I once overheard a resort visitor telling another that there are three places one definitely must see in St. Petersburg," says Kotzov. "The Hermitage, the Russian Museum and the nude beach."The article includes a picture captioned " Two women splashing in the water of the Finland Gulf at the Dunes nude beach about 30 kilometers north of St. Petersburg".
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