On June 22, the Ukrainian Antarctic team celebrates the main informal international holiday of polar explorers – Midwinter, the middle of winter.
The holiday, which was invented and “put into use” by the British more than a hundred years ago, during the expedition of Robert Scott, still is a kind of psychological discharge for people who work in harsh conditions of ice “isolation”, 10-degree frost and polar twilight.
“The sun appears for a short time: it is dawning at 11.30 a.m. and about 03.00 p.m. the sun sets. If there is a snowfall or it is cloudy, it’s generally dark as in the evening. Obviously, this is why the Midwinter is celebrated on the solstice day, June 22nd. Unlike Ukraine, where the day begins to shorten, here, in Antarctica, on the contrary, starting with June 22 the night become shorter,” explains the base commander of the 24th Ukrainian Antarctic expedition Ihor Dykyy.
Midwinter’s permanent tradition is swimming in ice water. It is believed that for those who winter for the first time in Antarctica (and there are four such people in the 24th UAE) this is an initiation into the community of polar explorers. According to Ihor Dykyy, such a test is not for the faint of heart, because the temperature of the water in the ocean today is minus one and a half degrees Celsius (sea water freezes at minus 2).
Main entertainments at Midwinter are various competitive games: football match, sports relay, tug-of-war, air rifle shooting to the target, throwing a 5-kilogram whale vertebra to a long distance. “A skeleton of the great blue whale has long been lying on the island of Rasmussen. Obviously, once this whale’s beached himself. Long ago participants of previous expeditions have brought the vertebra to the station. Thus, a bone weighing about 5 kg became a sports equipment specifically for Midwinter competitions”, – says the base commander.
Shortly before the holiday Ukrainian polar explorers started tournaments on arm-wrestling, chess, darts, billiard, pulling up on a crossbar, etc. The meteorologist Taras Bilyi, who caught a Mackerel icefish weighing almost one and a half kilograms, became the leader of the competition among fishermen. Prizes will be awarded to the winners during a holiday dinner on June 22.
And then the team of polar explorers plans to watch video and photo greetings sent by their colleagues from other Antarctic stations, as well as congratulatory drawings from Ukrainian schoolchildren.
The tradition of celebrating Midwinter with moving entertainment and swimming in the ocean was borrowed by the Ukrainians from their British colleagues, who in 1996 transferred the Faraday station to Ukraine. “We also played darts in the first Ukrainian Antarctic expedition, and through radio communications (there was no internet at that time) have arranged a competition with the British winterers from the Rothera station and won! – recalls Gennady Milinevsky, the 1st UAE leader. – Also, the midwinter morning ritual remains unchanged – this day breakfast for each winterer is prepared by the base commander. The main thing in Midwinter is positive psychological shake for winterers, and yet – the awareness that there is more sunlight; it’s like a thread of the way home. “