SOCHI, Russia — “What do you think of Russia?” Dmitry Avtonomov asked me.
He is a young Russian man visiting Sochi from Cheboksary, a city on Russia's Volga River, and he wanted a comparison with the US.
I searched for words. “Well, it’s less fancy.”
“You mean, normal?” he asked.
Sochi isn’t a glistening city. Rows of single-story houses, some with metal roofs, retreat from the sea; protruding yellow utility pipes connect many buildings, occasionally over roads; there are high-rise hotels closer to the coast, along with dilapidated older buildings. Smooth black stones cover the beach.
There was talk around the 2012 London Olympics about the unprecedented security, questions about whether or not the facilities would be ready in time, how the performance would play out, and if the country would really benefit. The same has happened here in Russia, but there is more security, more money and more negative attention in the press.
This is what initially drew me to Sochi and made me want to witness the coastal resort's changing landscape and, of course, these Olympic Games — to be present as a correspondent for GlobalPost covering the human rights issues, geopolitics and security machine that accompany the Games in this setting.
Russia’s $50 billion investment for the Winter Olympic Games is most visible in the city’s new infrastructure: a railroad the length of Sochi’s coast connecting to Sochi International Airport, and a new highway linking the coast to Krasnaya Polyana and surrounding ski resorts, where the downhill events for the Olympics will be held.
Russia’s massive security effort for the Games is also most evident in the city’s public spaces.