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Red Bikini Girl (1979)

On 16 January 1979, a young Ukrainian woman jumped from the Russian cruise ship Leonid Sobinov in Sydney Harbour wearing only a red bikini.

18-year old Lillian Gasinskaya, from Odessa, swam to shore and was found on a Pyrmont footpath on Sunday night by a photographer. She then went into hiding with friends in Sydney.

The “Girl in the Red Bikini” was soon a household name in Australia.


The daughter of a musician father and actress mother, Lillian spent years trying to plan her escape from the Soviet Union and just when she thought the dream was futile, an opportunity arose.

“I thought of all sorts of ways to get out of the country but each method I looked at seemed to be impossible,” she said.

“And then I heard they were recruiting staff for cruise ships which gave me an idea.”

Gasinskaya joined the company and trained in both Ukraine and the UK before she was finally assigned to the Leonid Sobinov, the ship that would eventually take her to freedom.

Ms Gasinskaya told reporters she had decided four months earlier to seek asylum in Australia. “I hate Russia and I saw the ship as my only chance to leave the country”, she said. “I know my parents in Voroshilovgrad will be terribly unhappy, but I cannot help that”.

A debate ensued over whether then Immigration Minister Michael MacKellar should grant Ms Gasinskaya asylum or deport her as was the customary fate for other ship deserters.

She was eventually allowed to stay and later earned $15,000 as the first nude centrefold in Australia’s edition of Penthouse magazine.

She then embarked on a new career path as a professional disco dancer and DJ and made appearances on TV shows The Young Doctors and Arcade.