Sochi is to Russia what Florida is to the United States. Perched on the shores of the Black Sea, Sochi's pebble beaches, palm trees and sulfur springs have made it a popular resort destination for Soviet elite since early 1900s.
In just two weeks, Sochi will be overrun by tourists and athletes. The city is gearing up to host the 2014 Winter Olympics, that begins on February 7.
Concerns of a terrorist attack have put the city and the international community on alert, prompting Russia to employ hundreds of Cossacks.
The Russian Riviera
Russia is a land of extremes, with weather ranging from frigid Arctic temperatures in the north, to searing desert temperatures in the inland areas further south. Sochi, 37 hours by train from Russian capital Moscow, is blessed with a Mediterranean climate and surrounded by botanical gardens and national parks. No wonder it is Russia’s top summer holiday spot and referred to as the 'Russian Riviera'!
Less than 45 minutes away and accessible by the world's best transportation system lies Krasnaya Polyana, an alpine ski destination in the Caucasus Mountain range. This will be the site of the Winter Olympic events. Further east, lies Mt. Elbrus, the highest mountain in Europe and one of the Seven Summits - the highest mountain on each of our seven continents.
Cossacks In Sochi
Sochi lies in a troubled region. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the genocide and expulsion of Muslim Circassians from the Black Sea area. Following a decades-long war, these indigenous people were forced out of their homeland in 1864 by the Russian empire. In addition, the Northern Caucasus region to the east of Sochi is considered a war zone and has seen armed rebellion from those seeking independence from Russia.
To ensure the safety of visitors and athletes, Russia has employed Cossack soldiers.
The Cossacks with their tall fur hats and ancestry dating back to times of the Russian Czars, were popularized by authors such as Leo Tolstoy and Alexander Pushkin. Chances are you may have seen a Cossack dance, known for high intensity and acrobatic moves.
The Cossacks were merciless soldiers who united Russia under the Czars during the 14th and 15th century, and continued as their henchmen. After the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution that saw the fall of the last Czar, many Cossacks were massacred. Today, they are seen as a bridge to Russia's glorious past, and are looked upon favorably.
At Sochi, you will see them take on a role that have played across centuries - as loyal soldiers called to action.
Courtesy CNN, Time, USSA.org