Mikhail Mordasov

The Other Sochi

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Mikhail Mordasov

Note: This slideshow is published in conjunction with Anna Nemtsova's article, "The Sochi That We've Lost."

On Feb. 7, the 2014 Winter Olympics kicked off in Sochi, the subtropical resort town whose name has become synonymous with the ills of Putin's Russia -- from its poor record on LGBT rights to the unresolved ethnic and political tensions of recent history. Journalists arriving in the town ahead of the games were delighted to find (and tweet about) half-built hotel lobbies, economical two-toilet bathroom stalls, and trick doorknobs.

But when photographer Mikhail Mordasov traveled to Sochi, it was a rather different place he had in mind: one that symbolized blissful escape for generations of Russians, a subtropical paradise now reshaped by the march of history. His images overlap with the reminiscences of Democracy Lab columnist Anna Nemtsova, who describes a vanished, intimate Sochi that Olympic tourists may no longer be able to see. Mordasov's photos capture the complexity of Sochi through the view of those two live, work, and vacation there.

In the photo above, a woman enjoys a massage under a powerful shower.


A sportsman competes during a freestyle skiing and snowboarding event held in Rosa Khutor before the opening of the games. Rosa Khutor is hosting all the alpine skiing events at the 2014 Winter Olympics. Russia has invested billions in the resort, which is just 30 miles away from Sochi.


Muslims pray on the balcony of Babylon restaurant on the day of Eid al-Adha, their view of Sochi blocked by a curtain covering the damage caused by flooding over 20 years ago. Most of Sochi's Muslims are migrant workers from Central Asia who came to work on the massive Olympics construction project. Reports reveal that migrant workers have suffered abusive work conditions and were "rounded up" for deportation as construction wrapped up.


Yekaterina Yevdokimova takes classes at figure skating school for children. She's holding a special frame that her coach uses to support her while she practices new jumps and spins.


Sochi tourists warm up at the luxurious British Banya sauna complex. Sochi offers vacationers a chance to enjoy traditional pleasures in elite comfort. In the photo above, clients "boil," enveloped in smoke and steam, in a cauldron hanging over a slow fire. Krasnaya Polyana's resorts offer their visitors meditative bliss. But the bill might bring them back to reality pretty quickly.


A strong mist engulfs Zimny ("Winter") Theater. The theater was built during Stalin's campaign to develop the resort in the 1930s. Grand Stalinist architecture can still be found throughout Sochi and surrounding areas.


Tourists bathe in a spot near Sochi that boasts 33 waterfalls. In the last two years, tourism to Sochi has dropped considerably due to ongoing construction for the Olympics. Around 2 million visitors travel to Sochi each year.


The daughter of Tatyana Samokhval peeks out of a closet in her home in Sochi. Two months after this photo was taken, her house was demolished to make way for a highway as part of construction for the Olympics. Tatyana's family did not receive compensation for their home.


In 2012, a landslide devastated Baranovka village, near Sochi. Above, a local resident looks on at the damage. 35 families were evacuated as the landslide raked through the village, damaging at least 20 homes.


A boy hides from a big Black Sea wave on a Sochi embankment during a storm.


People walk in the Riviera Park at sunset. Behind them, a mosaic portrait of Lenin looms above the entrance. Sochi is still filled with monuments built during the Soviet era.


Migrant workers relax and take photos after work on a beach near the Olympic construction sites.


A patient takes a mineral bath in Matsesta, the largest medical spa resort in Russia. Matsesta was established in 1902 near healing sulfuric springs.


Spectators watch an acrobatics competition.


A night view of the Caucasus Mountains and Mzymta valley.

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