A Visit to the Real Sochi, 'The Florida of Russia'

Friday, February 07, 2014

As the Olympics kick off, it's impossible to ignore the socio-political context. But in addition to the athletes, and the questions about Russian policy, there are also the people of Sochi. In 2007, after hearing that "the Florida of Russia" had been awarded the winter games, Dutch photographer Rob Hornstra and writer/videographer Arnold van Bruggen traveled to Sochi to begin documenting life in the resort town as it prepared for the 2014 games. The result is the multimedia reporting site "The Sochi Project" and the new book An Atlas of War and Tourism in the Caucasus (Aperture, 2013). They discuss their years of reporting, the history of the region, and the effect the Olympic games will have on the everyday lives of Sochi residents.

The beach, Adler, Sochi region, 2011

The railway line from Sochi to Sukhum in Abkhazia hugs the coast. Behind it rise the hotel-style sanatoriums of Adler. Ordinary hotel rooms are marginally cheaper, which is immediately apparent on Adler's seafront. The beach is full of overweight bodies sweating beer and spirits, bare torsos, noisy eaters surrounded by drunken bluster and tacky music. The locals have little choice but to put up with the visitors. Well heeled Russians take refuge in Sochi's fancier hotels or opt for Italy, Turkey or Thailand. The Games may bring a level of quality that will discourage cheap tourism, but more likely the city will just become more expensive, chaotic and crowded.

Hamzad Ivloev, Nazran, Ingushetia, 2012

Hamzad Ivloev, 44, was a policeman in Karabulak. One night he discovered a booby trap: a grenade had been lodged in a glass in such a way that the slightest movement would have set it off. At that moment reinforcements arrived. Hamzad started screaming and telling them to run away. But no one responded. He decided to throw himself on the grenade. “In retrospect, it was all for nothing. I sacrificed myself for a bunch of cowards', he says bitterly.

Every year, Mikhail Pavelivich Karabelnikov, 77, travels three thousand kilometers from Novokuznetsk to take his vacation in Sochi. He was a miner for thirty-seven years and gradually worked his way up to foreman, in charge of some 150 miners. His promising career came to an abrupt end when he refused to become a member of the Communist party, he says proudly.

Cover of the book The Sochi Project: An Atlas of War and Tourism in the Caucasus (Aperture, 2013)


Arnold van Bruggen

Comments [7]

Wayne Johnson Ph.D. from Bk

In the real Sochi, they are trying to exterminate all the stray dogs (page 1 New York Times, 2/6) because they present a bad image for the Olympics.

Feb. 07 2014 04:34 PM

...geo-politics,and human rights,and Russian citizen rights, and athletes rights, and gay rights,and animal rights,and ecologic rights.... oh well,i guess it's just about the ding-dong patriotic music,and the ghoulish overblown ceremonies to some...

Feb. 07 2014 11:19 AM
kay from Brooklyn

You know what? As a former athlete, I find it extremely offensive that our media (here at least) has been not only negative but as well undermining the effort.. After all, it's all about Sports and not, rpt NOT geo-politics. And that is that! I think opening ceremony shall be spectatular, I hope! kay

Feb. 07 2014 10:20 AM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

While I fully understand the intention of the IOC to hold the summer and winter Olympics in as many different locations as possible, it has always seemed illogical to me to hold the games in climates that are not appropriate. To hold these Winter Olympics in a sunny resort town and have to manufacture snow is ridiculous in the extreme. This Olympics should either have been held in a winter snow venue or they should host a summer Olympics in a summer climate. This does, however, explain the high cost. Manufacturing snow is a cost that need not be borne if the games were held where Mother Nature is providing free snow (like NYC, where we currently have plenty!).

Feb. 07 2014 10:19 AM
Larry from Brooklyn

While Sochi is a seaside city, it is also at the foot of the very high and snowy Caucasus Mountains. It is not really appropriate to compare it to indoor ski runs in Dubai!

Feb. 07 2014 10:16 AM

These guys know what the reputation of Florida is like here, right?

Feb. 07 2014 10:15 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

I find the western media's overly negative coverage of the Sochi Olympics disappointing but not surprising, so it's nice to get some historical context of Sochi.

Feb. 07 2014 10:07 AM

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