By Bryan MacDonald, in Sochi
When Sochi won the battle to host the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, many claimed that investment in a dilapidated Soviet resort, partially on swampland, was just for show, and that the city would quickly turn into a Potemkin village.
Predictions of the city’s decline after the investment attracted by the games so far appear to be inaccurate. On Wednesday, the mayor of the area, popular as a domestic holiday destination for Russians, and increasingly as a residence for those seeking a better climate, said that it was growing at an almost unprecedented pace. According to Alexey Kopaygorodsky, the permanent population has nearly doubled from just over 300,000 in 2010 and now stands at more than 600,000.
Given many people live in Sochi seasonally – some in summer, others in winter – the real population, at any one time, is sure to be actually far higher than the 600,000 revealed by its mayor.
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The city, one of Europe’s fastest-growing, is expanding at a faster pace than its municipal services can keep up with. “Now Sochi is in dire need of new roads and comprehensive projects to optimize the road network, there is a need to build road junctions, back up existing roads,” he said.
This reality, however, flies in the face of predictions from pundits, such as the Guardian’s Shaun Walker, who claimed, in late 2014, that the coastal conurbation had become a “ghost town” after the glitz and glamor of the Olympics faded away. Similar sentiments were shared by CNN and the Daily Mail. These publications are among the most widely read in the West, and none have subsequently returned to the city to correct the record.
In July this year, American tabloid The Daily Beast also claimed that the city had fallen on hard times during the Covid-19 pandemic. Anna Nemtsova, its Moscow correspondent, wrote that “the majority of Russians still feel skeptical about the Sputnik vaccine and it seems they would rather spend summer in stuffy Moscow, breathing smoke from burning wood.”
Simply can’t understand why @thedailybeast’s Moscow correspondent @annanemtsova keeps coming down to Sochi and lying about it. It’s going on for years now. This is not a proper beach, and the water is not especially cold. In fact, it’s 23°C (or 73.4°F), right now. pic.twitter.com/G2b1DEwQtk
— Bryan MacDonald (@27khv) June 30, 2021
Her analysis came despite queues for dozens of flights to the south coast at Moscow’s main airports, and was illustrated with pictures of empty deckchairs, while packed beaches just down the road were left out of shot. Nemtsova has been a consistent critic of the southern city, but her distaste for Sochi doesn’t seem to have prevented her from visiting frequently.
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