In Sochi’s Shadow

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Abkhazia is a lonely little non-country with big dreams just a few miles from where the Olympic Games will be held. Kosuke Okahara/Prospekt

“Our dream is to compete in the Olympic Games as Abkhazians,” Djarnaz Beniya told me. Beniya, a wrestling trainer who coached Denis Tsargush to a bronze medal in the 2012 Olympic Games, is a resident of Abkhazia, a breakaway territory from Georgia whose border is less than 10 miles from Sochi Olympic Park in Russia. Abkhazia fought a war with Georgia in 1992 and 1993; it declared independence after that and fought again with Georgian troops in 2008, forcing the last of them out. Today, Russia has a strong presence in Abkhazia, which has had a “special relationship” with Russia’s security services for decades. Only Russia and a handful of other countries have recognized the independence of this economically depressed former Soviet republic.

Not only does most of the rest of world not recognize Abkhazia as an independent country, neither does the International Olympic Committee; any athletes from Abkhazia would have to compete as Russians, although none are going to the games. When I visited them last summer, some students at Abkhazia State University told me that they are proud of being Abkhazians but they also know the future of the country is uncertain. “I love the country, and I am proud of my country, but I know the situation is a deadlock now,” one student said. “It is our generation who have to find their own path for the country.”

See more of Kosuke Okahara’s work here.

abkhazia_02 Abkhazia is bordered to the southwest by the Black Sea. Kosuke Okahara/Prospekt

abkhazia_03 A child plays at a small amusement park. Kosuke Okahara/Prospekt

abkhazia_04 An abandoned installation in Tkvarcheli, once an important coal mining area in Abkhazia. Kosuke Okahara/Prospekt

abkhazia_05 People gather at the monastery in Novy Afon, Abkhazia. This monastery wants to be independent from the Russian Orthodox Church, which has thrown it into conflict with other churches in the region. Kosuke Okahara/Prospekt

abkhazia_06 A boy watches a children’s television program. Kosuke Okahara/Prospekt

abkhazia_07 An abandoned and collapsed building – and a horse – near the town of Tkvarcheli. Kosuke Okahara/Prospekt

abkhazia_08 International relations students take a final exam at the Abkhazia State University in Sukhumi, the capital. Kosuke Okahara/Prospekt

abkhazia_09 Djarnaz Beniya, a wrestling coach, sits in his office. Many Abkhaz children from the Gudauta region come here to train to be Olympians. Kosuke Okahara/Prospekt

abkhazia_10 Women living in the same apartment building gather to talk. Kosuke Okahara/Prospekt

abkhazia_11 Member of the Abkhaz military train in Sukhumi. Kosuke Okahara/Prospekt

abkhazia_12 Newly recruited soldiers study in the Abkhaz military school. Kosuke Okahara/Prospekt

abkhazia_13 One of the many war veterans in Esher, a small village near Sukhumi. Kosuke Okahara/Prospekt

abkhazia_14 Alik Zantariya, 53, works at the still-functioning electric substation in Tkvarcheli. The main building was destroyed during the war of 1992 and 1993. Kosuke Okahara/Prospekt

abkhazia_15 At the Abkhazia-Georgia cooperative electric substation in Abkhazia. Surprisingly, many Georgians still work at the substation even though it is located on the Abkhazia side. Kosuke Okahara/Prospekt

abkhazia_16 The destroyed former parliament building in Sukhumi. The building became a symbol of Abkhazian independence as they took it from the Georgians during the war in the early 1990s. Kosuke Okahara/Prospekt

abkhazia_17 Young wrestlers from Gudauta. Kosuke Okahara/Prospekt

abkhazia_18 Abkhaz girls after graduating from high school in Tkvarcheli. Kosuke Okahara/Prospekt

abkhazia_19 A coat hangs in an abandoned closet in a village near Tkvarcheli that was destroyed during the 1992–1993 war. Kosuke Okahara/Prospekt

abkhazia_20 A young Abkhaz soldier and his girlfriend on a Black Sea beach in Sukhumi. Kosuke Okahara/Prospekt

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