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Sochi Russia January 15  2014 A patient during his mineral bath at the Matsesta Sanatorium in Sochi.  Starting in the late 1930s, Matsesta was at the center of Josef Stalin's drive to turn Sochi into the premier resort city of the Soviet Union. Workers from across the USSR were given yearly leaves, paid for by the government, to rest in Sochi's sanatoria and recuperate from their year of toiling in Soviet factories and mines. After the fall of communism, however, Matsesta was privatized and found it hard to compete with resorts in foreign countries like Turkey and Egypt, which were suddenly open to Russian visitors in the early 1990s. The dilapidated sanatorium now survives on the trickle of tourists still nostalgic for the sulphur baths and hot springs they remember from their Soviet holidays.
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Sochi, Russia, Jan. 15, 2014: A patient takes a mineral bath at the Matsesta Sanatorium in Sochi. Starting in the late 1930s, Matsesta was at the center of Josef Stalin's drive to turn Sochi into the premier resort city of the Soviet Union.Yuri Kozyrev—NOOR for TIME
Sochi Russia January 15  2014 A patient during his mineral bath at the Matsesta Sanatorium in Sochi.  Starting in the late 1930s, Matsesta was at the center of Josef Stalin's drive to turn Sochi into the premier resort city of the Soviet Union. Workers from across the USSR were given yearly leaves, paid for by the government, to rest in Sochi's sanatoria and recuperate from their year of toiling in Soviet factories and mines. After the fall of communism, however, Matsesta was privatized and found it hard to compete with resorts in foreign countries like Turkey and Egypt, which were suddenly open to Russian visitors in the early 1990s. The dilapidated sanatorium now survives on the trickle of tourists still nostalgic for the sulphur baths and hot springs they remember from their Soviet holidays.
Sochi Russia January  172014Rosa Khutor Alpine Resort was constructed to help Russia win its bid for the Sochi Games. At a cost of more than $50 billion, these Olympics will be the most expensive ever.
Sochi Russia January  17 2014 Workers wait for clients at the borsht bar erected in the center of Roza Khutor, the skiing village that will serve as a key venue for the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. Dressed in traditional Cossack uniforms and serving up carafes of stiff Russian moonshine, the eatery injects a touch of local culture Ðand kitsch Ð into the otherwise staid and sleek atmosphere of Roza Khutor.
Sochi Russia January  14 2014Cossack officers watch students perform a traditional Russian dance at School No. 10 in the city of Sochi. The dance classes are part of the Cossack curriculum recently implemented at the school under its director, Vladimir Davydov (seated at center). Davydov, a member of the Sochi city council, is an active member of the local Cossack community, and has received abundant support for the new curriculum from the mayor of Sochi, who is also a Cossack.
Sochi Russia January 17 2014The "Coastal Cluster" on Sochi's Black Sea waterfront will host the opening and closing ceremonies, skating, and ice hockey
Matsesta Sochi i Russia January 15  2014  Matsesta Sanatorium  Starting in the late 1930s, Matsesta was at the center of Josef Stalin's drive to turn Sochi into the premier resort city of the Soviet Union. Workers from across the USSR were given yearly leaves, paid for by the government, to rest in Sochi's sanatoria and recuperate from their year of toiling in Soviet factories and mines. After the fall of communism, however, Matsesta was privatized and found it hard to compete with resorts in foreign countries like Turkey and Egypt, which were suddenly open to Russian visitors in the early 1990s. The dilapidated sanatorium now survives on the trickle of tourists still nostalgic for the sulphur baths and hot springs they remember from their Soviet holidays.
Sochi Russia January 15  2014Father Flavian, the abbot of the Cathedral of the Holy Face of Christ the Savior, poses on its altar, behind the iconostasis, where laymen are normally not allowed to tread. The ornate cathedral, which stands inside the Olympic village in Sochi, was built in the course of only one year, just in time for President Vladimir Putin to attend its first Orthodox Christmas mass on Jan. 7, exactly a month before the opening ceremony of the Winter Games in Sochi.
Sochi Russia January  18 2014A Russian tourist walks beside a waterfall near the Russian village of Kichmay, one of the few settlements left near the city of Sochi that is still populated mostly by ethnic Circassians. Native to the Caucasus Mountains, this ancient civilization of highlanders fiercely resisted the conquering armies of the Russian Empire during the Caucasian War, which lasted nearly a hundred years from 1763 to 1864. Throughout this period, the Circassian horsemen routinely ambushed the Russian Cossacks and other settlers sent by the czar to settle the northern shore of the Black Sea, including around the town of Sochi, which was originally built as a Russian fort to fight the Circassians. Fed up with their tireless attacks, Tsar Alexander the II ordered all Circassians to be forcibly expelled from the area in the 1860s, mostly to modern day Turkey. From exile, their ancestors have continued in vain to lobby the Russian government to acknowledge the mass expulsion as an act of ethnic cleansing. The Circassians who remain in this impoverished region of Russia often make a living by showing Russian tourists around what were once the sacred lands of their ancestors, such as the nature preserve known as the 33 Waterfalls, pictured here.
Sochi Russia January 2014A carnival cutout shows traditional Circassian dress at a tourist destination in the Russian village of Kichmay, one of the few settlements left near the city of Sochi that is still populated mostly by ethnic Circassians. Native to the Caucasus Mountains, this ancient civilization of highlanders fiercely resisted the conquering armies of the Russian Empire during the Caucasian War, which lasted nearly a hundred years from 1763 to 1864. For most of the period, the Circassian horsemen routinely ambushed the Russian Cossacks and other settlers sent by the Czars to settle the northern shore of the Black Sea, including around the town of Sochi, which was originally built as a Russian fort to fight the Circassians in the 19th Century. Fed up with their tireless attacks, Tsar Alexander the II ordered all Circassians to be forcibly expelled from the area in the 1860s, mostly to modern day Turkey. From exile, their ancestors have continued in vain to lobby the Russian government to acknowledge the mass expulsion as an act of ethnic cleansing. The Circassians who remain in this impoverished region of Russia often make a living by showing Russian tourists around what were once the sacred lands of their ancestors. The Mezdakh tourist facility, where this carnival cutout stands, is one of the last remnants of Circassian culture in the area.
Sochi Russia January 17 2014A welder assembles the frame for the winners' podium of the Winter Olympic Games to be held in Sochi. In the background hovers the massive Olympic torch, which will be lit during the opening ceremony for the Sochi Games on Feb. 7.
Sochi Russia January  17 2014 Armed and uniformed Cossacks patrol the  railway station in Krasnaya Polyana, the mountain venue for many of the Olympic events to be held as part of the Winter Games in Sochi. Security concerns and threats of terrorism have urged the Russian government to deploy some 40,000 police officers and security personnel in and around Sochi during the Games, a show of force unprecedented in modern Olympic history.
Sochi Russia January 18 2014Villages of the Kichmay valley, populated mostly by ethnic Circassians, are seen from atop a monument to the Circassian warriors who died while resisting the Russian invasion of this part of the Caucasus Mountains in the 19th Century.
Sochi Russia January 17 2014Russian President Vladimir Putin poses with a group of Olympic volunteers who will help coordinate the Winter Games in Sochi. More than 25,000 volunteers from around Russia, and even some from abroad, have joined Russia's Olympic movement, and Putin took time out to thank them in person on Jan. 17 at the Laura Sports Complex near Sochi, that facility that will host the Olympic biathlon and cross-country skiing events at the Sochi Games.
Sochi Russia January 18 2014Members of an ethnic Circassian dance troupe perform for tourists at a restaurant in the Russian village of Kichmay, one of the few settlements left near the city of Sochi that is still populated mostly by Circassians. Native to the Caucasus Mountains, this ancient civilization of highlanders fiercely resisted the conquering armies of the Russian Empire during the Caucasian War, which lasted nearly a hundred years from 1763 to 1864. Throughout this period, the Circassian horsemen routinely ambushed the Russian Cossacks and other settlers sent by the Czars to settle the northern shore of the Black Sea, including around the town of Sochi, which was originally built as a Russian fort to fight the Circassians. Fed up with their tireless attacks, Tsar Alexander the II ordered all Circassians to be forcibly expelled from the area in the 1860s, mostly to modern day Turkey. From exile, their ancestors have continued in vain to lobby the Russian government to acknowledge the mass expulsion as an act of ethnic cleansing. Some of the Circassians who remain in this impoverished region of Russia often make a living by performing for Russian tourists. This performer does tricks with the ceremonial dagger, or kinjal, that was part of the traditional uniform of his Circassian ancestors.
Sochi Russia January 16 2014 on  the beach
Sochi Russia January 2014
Sochi Russia January 14 2014The "Coastal Cluster" on Sochi's Black Sea waterfront will host the opening and closing ceremonies, skating, and ice hockey
Sochi Russia January 2014
Sochi, Russia, Jan. 15, 2014: A patient takes a mineral bath at the Matsesta Sanatorium in Sochi. Starting in the late
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Yuri Kozyrev—NOOR for TIME
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Weird, Wonderful Sochi: Inside Russia's Own Palm Beach

Feb 07, 2014

The locals in Sochi still use the old Soviet slang – dikari, which means, “the savages” – to describe the tourists who arrive from colder parts of Russia, rent an apartment near the Black Sea coast and spend a week letting the sun wash their pallor away. The word is a reflection of the privileged status (some would say snobbery) that once set the people of Sochi apart from the rest of the toiling masses of the Soviet Union. Their town was the closest thing in the USSR to Monte Carlo or Palm Beach. The markets were packed with exotic fruit. The summer lasted nine months of the year. And the locals knew they lived in the Soviet version of paradise.

To his incalculable luck, Yuri Kozyrev, TIME's contract photographer, was one of them. His grandparents owned an apartment in the center of Sochi, within view of the sea port's elegant spire, and he would visit them each year between May and October starting from the age of three.

His grandmother Vera was a curator at a local museum. His grandfather Boris repaired watches in a little workshop and, in his abundant leisure time, rode around on his motorbike and wrote books about history and philosophy. Their balcony looked out over pomegranate and persimmon trees, fruits as rare to the average Soviet as a coconut is to an Eskimo. They bloomed all summer long.

In the early 1990s, not long before he went to photograph the first war in Chechnya, Kozyrev stopped coming to Sochi. His grandparents had passed away just as the Soviet Union collapsed, and the family lost their apartment. So it was only in the last couple of years that he started returning to Sochi on assignment, photographing the preparations for the Winter Olympic Games, which the city will host from February 7 - 23.

What he found on his return was hard to recognize, a provincial town turned into a giant construction site, with hotels, stadiums and highways rising with fantastic speed. “It was all movement and light,” he says. “All of it was new.” On the Black Sea coast, the new Olympic village had been built right over marshlands, its stadiums resembling a convention of alien spaceships gathered from different galaxies.

Such spectacles in Kozyrev's pictures come through with all their luminescent power. But so does his nostalgia for the town that they replaced. In many of the frames, the remnants of the old creep into the present day, but usually in the form of kitsch, while the new overwhelms with its scale and insistence.

During the first couple of trips, Kozyrev could not bring himself to visit his grandparents' old apartment building. “I was too afraid,” he says. “I'd heard it was razed to make way for some Olympic construction and I couldn't bare to see it.” In fact, the building still stood. Except the fruit trees were gone, and someone had decided to paint it pink.

Wherever he could find the remains of the old Sochi– its sanatoriums and its bazaars – Kozyrev sought them out, but they usually seemed anachronistic in the context of the Olympic boom, somehow out of place in their native environment. “The arrival of a new epoch will do that," he says with a laugh.

Only once during his visits did he come across an image of the town as he remembers it. Sitting by the shore, he found an older couple from Siberia getting a spa treatment, their legs submerged in plastic tubs of water so that little fish could nibble on their feet. Grinning as he stopped to talk to them, he had to keep himself from shouting, dikari!

Yuri Kozyrev is a contract photographer for TIME and was named the 2011 Photographer of the Year in the Pictures of the Year International competition.

Simon Shuster is TIME’s Moscow correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @shustry.

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