Photo Essay: Sochi, the $50 Billion ‘Ghost Town’

AntiNote: Freelance photographer Alexander Belenkiy posted these photographs* on his livejournal this month, after a trip to Sochi. This is the ghost town he encountered there, only six months after the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Alexander points out in his own commentary that the Olympic Village is not completely abandoned; indeed he took care to include photographs of people there. Ultimately this deepens the images’ chill by providing a sense of scale. Hearing that the Sochi Olympics were a $50 billion waste is somewhat stultifying; seeing the vastness of this crime in (literally) concrete terms really leaves an impression.

Recently, photographs of the long-decaying 2004 Athens Olympic Village also made the rounds in the media. Athens and Sochi are clearly not the only two ready examples of the patently absurd, demonic logic of neoliberalism casually leaving its crime scenes exposed for all to see, but they are two of the more poignant. The former Soviet Union was one of the first (and arguably among the most disastrous) sites of neoliberal experiments with economic shock therapy. It nearly goes without saying that Greece is one of the countries most epically brutalized by imposed austerity (following—and following from—an obscene neoliberal ‘economic miracle’ of which the 2004 Olympics were a part) in the 21st century so far.

The Athens Olympic Village is ‘photogenic’ because of the decay; it is an effective but fairly obtuse way to portray the Greek tragedy of the last decade. The Sochi Olympic Village, however, is almost more arresting because of its freshness. Because it looks new and somewhat maintained, it more closely resembles the empty anti-human hellscapes that neoliberalism has also vomited almost everywhere else, in places we know, places right around the corner from each of us, no matter where we are.

I see Sochi in Zürich-Neu Oerlikon; I see Sochi in the southern suburbs of Minneapolis; I even see Sochi in the small town where I live now. Looking at these photographs, you will also be able to name many such places—places where the decay is simply yet to come.

—Ed

*This is only a selection; all of Alexander’s photographs of Sochi and his complete commentary (in Russian) can be viewed here. Republished with permission.

Please click on each image for a closer look.

Vast wasteland of structures left incomplete, unable to finish in time for the Olympics. Pallets with paving slabs have lain intact and abandoned since winter.

Vast wasteland of structures left incomplete, unable to finish in time for the Olympics. Pallets with paving slabs have lain intact and abandoned since winter.

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River, mountains, waterfront ... gorgeous! If only there were some outdoor cafes!  Imagine thousands of people walking carefree along the promenade...

River, mountains, waterfront … gorgeous! If only there were some outdoor cafes! Imagine thousands of people walking carefree along the promenade…

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The best view of this ultra-modern Russian city opens out from the top of a giant parking garage. Not from the roof of a restaurant, not a specially constructed viewing platform. From a parking garage...

The best view of this ultra-modern Russian city opens out from the top of a giant parking garage. Not from the roof of a restaurant, not a specially constructed viewing platform. From a parking garage…

...which is, of course, empty.

…which is, of course, empty.

There were several of these mammoth parking garages. A lot of nice views!  This one was five stories high and there wasn't a single car in it. Just some broken toilets.

There were several of these mammoth parking garages. A lot of nice views! This one was five stories high and there wasn’t a single car in it. Just some broken toilets.

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I took a picture of these same exact chairs last winter. Both times, then as now, I did not encounter a single person.

I took a picture of these same exact chairs last winter. Both times, then as now, I did not encounter a single person.

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