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The new hit Netflix movie, The Swimmers, directed by Sally El Hosaini, tells the inspirational story of two sisters who left war-torn Syria to go on a harrowing journey to escape their country's violent civil war.
At one point, the sisters, Sara and Yusra Mardini, even had to swim through the Aegean Sea for hours on end. The movie then follows Yusra's Olympic journey as she joins a refugee swim team to compete in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The movie is based on a true story. Sara and Yusra really did flee Syria with other refugees, as Yusra explains in her autobiography, Butterfly. The movie also includes some pretty intense (real) moments, like the aforementioned point when Yusra and Sara jump out of their overcrowded boat full of refugees in the Aegean Sea and swam for more than three hours to help everyone reach land safely.
It’s understandable to have questions about the family these two sisters left behind in Syria. So, who are the Mardinis and where are they now? Here’s what you need to know.
Their father was a swimmer growing up.
Sara and Yusra's father, Ezzat Mardini, also grew up swimming, like his daughters. And, as the movie shows, he served as their swim coach until they left Syria. At the time, the family lived in Daraya, a suburb of Damascus, in Syria, according to The Guardian.
His experiences in their home country were also part of the reason the girls left Syria. At one point, Ezzat was taken away and tortured after he was mistaken for someone else. In 2015, he and his wife, Mervat, decided that their eldest daughters needed to live someplace else, per The Guardian.
Yusra says that life carried on as normal, until the fighting reached her hometown. “I just kept swimming and going to school, trying to be a normal kid,” she told Vogue.
They have another sister named Shaed.
Sara and Yusra have a younger sister named Shaed, who is shown in the movie as just a little girl who stays behind with her parents when her sisters leave Syria.
Shaed and her parents ended up joining Sara and Yusra when they reached Berlin, Germany. Shaed is a teen now, and was living with her mother in an apartment in the Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf neighborhood as of 2017, per Vogue. (Ezzat lives nearby.)
Their mother used to be a physiotherapist.
Strong. Magazine for Girls shares this factoid in an interview with Yusra, who was in 7th grade when protests against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad started.
It's unclear if Mervat is still practicing these days, though.
Is their cousin Nizar a real person?
In the movie, the girls travel with their male cousin, Nizar. Unfortunately, he’s not a real person, but he’s based on real people who are related to the sisters.
For one, Yusra and Sara really did leave Syria with two of their cousins. However, the movie depicts this part of the journey through the fictionalized form of Nizar.
In fact, the character is specifically based off of the sisters’ real cousin, Nabih, according to Digital Spy.
Where is the real Mardini family now?
It seems that some of the extended family is still together in Germany. Ezzat has shared several posts on Instagram about the movie, along with pictures of some members of his family.
After arriving in Berlin, Ezzat actually started coaching swimming again, and his Facebook profile says that he works at Berliner Bäder-Betriebe as a coach, per The Cinemaholic.
As of 2017, Mervat was still living in Germany, but it's unclear if she is still there and why lives apart from her husband. It's also unclear what she has been doing lately because she doesn't have much of a social media presence.
Sara was arrested by Greek authorities in 2018 while working with a refugee aid org, facing charges of spying as well as trafficking and smuggling migrants into the country, and she spent 107 days in prison before being released on bail, per TIME. Sara has a court date in January, the outlet says, and maintains her innocence. Amnesty International has since called the charges are “trumped up” and “farcical,” but Sara could face a possible prison sentence.
She seems to be in Germany now, per an August Instagram post:
Yusra, on the other hand, recently shared that she’s attending the University of Southern California as a film and TV production student. Now 24, she has continued working with the United Nations, helping out with refugee camps and advocacy, telling TIME, “I will tell my story a million times until I see change."
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