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A Roving View of Putin's Olympics

Photos by Arthur Bondar.

All photos by Arthur Bondar and Oksana Yushko

Flying over Sochi, we saw a beautiful panorama of the region. The Olympic Games here have been a pet project of Vladimir Putin’s since their proposal, and the Russian government has done its all to make the venues and surrounding countryside some of the most memorable in Olympic history.

The drastic transformation of Sochi has not been without controversy. It was inevitable that the area would be heavily guarded and protected against terrorists, but the sheer quantity of checkpoints, police patrols and special forces really surprised us. Meanwhile, the green gardens in the centre of the city have partially given way to concrete plazas and glass skyscrapers. Many lambast the Russian government for these changes, while others truly believe that these developments will put this region and Russia in the right direction.

There is no single truth. The people who live here are optimists. They lived through four years of ear-splitting construction sites, infuriating traffic jams and omnipresent “Pardon Our Dust” signs. Now, they believe they will reap the rewards of all that inconvenience. Foreigners who come here describe Sochi as a “nice city”, but we see how the mass media tell their own truths, depending on the nationalities of their audiences. Visiting shelters for stray dogs, talking with homosexuals and examining the suffering environment, we hope that the government will seek solutions to the most recurrent issues in the headlines.

The only thing we can conclude for certain is that a city is its people, and Sochi’s people are much to its credit. As guests here, we have enjoyed a wealth of local hospitality and friendship.

And while we are not big sport fans, we hope those who saw the Games’ opening ceremony would remember the beautiful music by Sviridov and Tchaikovsky, would want to read Tolstoy and would want to visit our Russia one day. 

Passersby peer through a fence to view the games live on LED screens.

A policeman guards the live-viewing area.

A man shows his Russian pride on a walkway in the Olympic Village.

The beach area in downtown Sochi.

Dressed in the Russian Olympic uniform, a fan prays at Saint Michael's Cathedral on the eve of the opening ceremony.

A woman peddles Olympic souvenirs and flags in town.

Police with dogs keep watch over every corner of the city.

A couple, Fedor and Veronika, decided to exchange marital vows in Russian Olympic uniforms on the day of the opening ceremony.

Fedor and Veronika celebrate their wedding.

Visitors party in a fast-food restaurant in the centre of Sochi.

A group of young Russian dancers strike a pose.

The best-known gay club in Sochi: Mayak.

Songs and disco balls at Mayak, Sochi's premier gay club.

Performers getting ready in Mayak's dressing room.

A Cossack guard patrols a viewing area in Rosa Khutor, home to many of Sochi's skiing events.

A bird's-eye view of Sochi and the Black Sea.

Dmitriy and Kristina with their family, watching the opening ceremony in their house in Medoveevka, a village nearby.

A police speedboat arrives at Sochi's harbour.

Travellers stand at the waterfront, photographing the ocean liners that brought foreigners to the Olympic Games.

A view of the visitor-filled ocean liners stationed in Sochi's port on the Black Sea.

Construction workers leave the mountains for Krasnaya Polyana after a hard day's work.

The mountains above Krasnaya Polyana, where the main Olympic competitions take place.

The fence surrounding the police base in the Olympic Village, where officers were sent from all over Russia.

People taking photos with the Olympic Rings in Sochi's main square.

People photograph each other in downtown Sochi.