Sochi gets down to work
Russia is facing the challenge of building a world-class winter sports venue and it has an intimidating to-do list. Sochi may be a holiday destination, with 120 miles of beaches, but it has a very basic winter sports set-up. The first ice-rink in the area was built in the city's centre last year. In the mountains, Krasnaya Polyana does have three basic ski runs, but many more will have to be created. Electricity supply also needs modernising.
Russia will have to build an Olympic venue, a media centre and accommodation. A major problem is traffic congestion. A new railway link from Moscow to Sochi will be created, reducing the time it takes to get from one city to another from 36 hours to less than 24. The Transport Minister has also said that they want to build an offshore port. The advertising campaign for Sochi was “Gateway to the future”, so the government wants to build a long-lasting legacy for Sochi and the surrounding region.
One of Sochi's closest neighbours, Georgia's breakaway republic of Abkhazia, also expects many visitors around the time of the event. Its economy depends greatly on its ties with the Russian Krasnodar region. Abkhazia has already offered its help to Sochi to prepare for the games.
When the Southern Russian city won the Olympic bid, people in Abkhazia were celebrating.
“Abkhazia was as eager about Sochi to win as Russia, that's true, because they are neighbours and for centuries our two countries had very close relations. So, we were just as happy as Sochi residents,” Zurab Khashba, Abkhazian restaurant owner, assured. Like many other locals he has an enormous sympathy for Sochi, Abkhazia's closest neighbour. His small family restaurant “Patskha” in the republic's capital Sukhumi is very popular with Russian tourists. Zurab treats them like old friends.
The coastline of Abkhazia starts just a few kilometres away from Greater Sochi, at the border village of Psou. Georgia's breakaway republic, it declared independence 14 years ago. A violent conflict between Georgian government troops and the Abkhazian army ended as Joint CIS peacekeepers entered the republic in 1993.
The local economy is very dependent on the neighbouring Russian city of Sochi and Krasnodar region in general. Thousands of Russian tourists visit Abkhazia's main resorts, Gagra, Pitsunda and Sukhumi, every summer.
The coastline has a unique subtropical climate. Local farmers grow mandarins, grapes, tea, and even bananas. And for those who seek a spiritual experience, Abkhazia is known for its ancient Christian monasteries and temples. The republic's government hopes to attract even more visitors as attention to the region grows in the years leading up to the Sochi Olympics.
“If necessary we will do our best to assist Sochi: both our airports and our entire tourist infrastructure, all our famous resorts. Abkhazia is ready to provide Sochi with any help if needed,” said Aleksandr Ankvab, Abkhazian Prime Minister.