Friday, February 7, 2014

Yea! The Winter Olymics in Sochi, Russia start today. Where is Sochi anyway? And what is it's History?

The winter Olympics are starting today in Sochi, Russia. Sochi, Russia? Why Sochi? When I first heard the name of the city I had no idea where it was although I was sure I had heard the name before. Sochi, Sochi. Then I remembered---I'll tell you about how I am connected to Sochi later.

I love the Winter Olympics. All that skiing, figure skating, speed skating, hockey, bob sled racing, and curling. Wow! That feels like "old home week(s)." I grew up in Manitoba, Canada about 30 miles southeast of Winnipeg. Miles and miles of flat prairie. We could hardly wait for snow to fall and the ice to freeze so we could all get out our sleds, the girls could get on their figure skates, and the boys their hockey skates. Then there were endless weekends we watched our home team on the ice and cheered and shouted until we were hoarse. So yes, I am an ardent watcher of the Winter Olympics.

When I first heard the Olympics would be help in Sochi, Russia, I decided to find out more about this Russian city so I looked it up on the internet.

"What?" I said to my husband. "The Winter Olympics in Sochi? It's halfway on the eastern coast of the Black Sea near the border of Georgia. That's humid, subtropical climate out there and the temperature rarely goes under freezing." Apparently it used to be swampy with lots of Malaria. Ugh. It rains 59" a year. I could tell you more stories of how they got rid of the mosquitos with what we now call biological control, but that's for later on in the blog.

"That is strange," he said looking up from reading his Science News magazine. (By the way, Ron grew up in California and doesn't like snow, but was an avid skier when he was young. He loves the Olympics as much as I do.)

I read more, then said, "Okay, that makes sense. It's near the Caucasus Mountains. The ski resort has one of the most powerful snowmaking machines in the world and the Russians feel very confident that they will have plenty of snow for the weeks of the Olympics. But wouldn't Siberia have been easier?" I hesitated and read on. "Okay. This makes even more sense," I said. "Sochi is the major resort in Russia. Putin and all his rich buddies have their second homes there. And Joseph Stalin plus most of the Russian leaders after him had homes there as well. It's the place the powerful and beautiful people come for vacations. I think Putin is trying to make a great impression on the world."

Sochi was a city of 334,282 people in 2002, and it is probably a little larger now. The city has palm trees, parks, and extravagant architecture and the surrounding area grows and sells a special tea the Russians love. It was first populated by the people of Asia Minor many years BC.After the 15th century the government called the city Ubykh. It was occupied by a local mountaineer clan that lived there until 1864 when the Russians, who had conquered the area in 1829, decided that the native people were no longer welcome. Most of the local, mostly Muslim, population left and migrated to Turkey.

In 1896 the city was called Sochi and was developed for sanitoriums and hospitals. There was only one problem with the place. Mosquitos. The Sochi area was mostly swamp land and the mosquitos bred and carried malaria to many of the inhabitants. Not a good place for hospitals. The Russian people drained the swamps. But this didn't solve the problem. So between the years of 1921-1925 they planted Eucalyptus trees. The trees consumed some of the water, but even that was not enough to get rid of the mosquitos. Then in about 1925 they dumped mosquito fish into the swamps. The fish ate most of the larvae and that was basically the end of the malaria problem in Sochi. Wow! What a great experiment in biological control.

During World War II Sochi became a major rehabilitation center with many sanatoriums and hospitals, and it has remained so to this day. 

As I promised early in the blog, I'd like to tell you how I am connected to Sochi. When I looked at the map and found Sochi, I felt shivers run down my arms. I suddenly remembered where I had heard the name. My father. Although German, he grew up in a thriving village on the Caspian Sea fairly near Grozny.

During the Russian Revolution of 1917-1919 anarchy swept through Southern Russia as the Czar's troops battled for survival and lost. In February, 1918, a 1000 man Tatar army rode down from the Caucasus onto the villages and slaughtered people, pillaged homes, and burned crops and houses. My father and his family escaped merely a few hours before the Tatars arrived. They travelled by horse and wagon to Sochi and then up to the Ukraine by rail and horses.

How did they survive? Several villages of kind Muslim people sheltered them and fed them. Neither spoke each other's language but they understood each other. My dad's immediate family hid for six years and escaped intact to Canada through Latvia in 1924. Many others of the extended family were not so lucky. Several of them were sent to Siberia to work in the mines. But something amazing happened in 1995 after the Soviet Union collapsed. My dad received a letter from one of his cousins in Siberia, and they began to communicate again.

So for me, Sochi is an important place. I pray that the people at the Winter Olympics remain safe and have a wonderful time.

And now that I am finished with my self-help book How to Cope with Trauma after Stress: Especially for Veterans, their Families, and Friends, I will continue writing my book about my father's escape from Russia. I call it, Escape to Freedom. The book will include some pictures and history of the area, plus twelve personal stories my father used to tell me about the family's escape from Communist Russia. I hope to finish it this year---the year of the Sochi Winter Olympics.


Jennifer Rova said...

Extremely interesting. I love history and to have a personal connection makes it more meaningful.

Ana said...

Thanks Jennifer. I am knee deep in Russian and family history and books about the migrations out of Russia during the early communist years. Very interesting. So far I have written 3 of the stories!