In less than three weeks, thousands of athletes, journalists and TV crews will flock to Sochi, Russia, for the 22nd Winter Olympics.
While new stars will be made and many dreams realized and crushed, one thing we probably won’t be seeing or hearing about is the residents of Sochi.
For five years, two journalists, Rob Hornstra and Arnold van Bruggen, documented the conditions of the people who live in Sochi. As van Bruggen explains, they felt compelled to do so because:
“[n]ever before have the Olympic Games been held in a region that contrasts more strongly with the glamour of the Games than Sochi. Just twenty kilometers away is the conflict zone Abkhazia. To the east, the Caucasus Mountains stretch into obscure and impoverished breakaway republics such as North Ossetia and Chechnya. On the coast, old Soviet-era sanatoria stand shoulder to shoulder with the most expensive hotels and clubs of the Russian Riviera. By 2014 the area around Sochi will have been changed beyond recognition.”
Like many areas of the former Soviet Union, the people of Sochi struggle with poverty, drug addiction and violence. Despite these problems, there are still elements of joy to be had, like dancing and karaoke contests at popular nightspots.
However, one person who was not impressed by these photos was Russian President Vladimir Putin. As a result of their work, Hornstra and Bruggen have been banned from the Olympics.
While Putin has received a lot of criticism for his comments and policies towards gays and lesbians, his desire to ignore the realities of Sochi and other areas like it, is equally important. Putin may not want to see these pictures, but my hope is the rest of the world will and perhaps even stop to consider the lives and harsh realities of the residents even among the glitz and glamour of the games.
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Editor: Rachel Nussbaum
Photo: Hornstra/Flatland Gallery