In August 2013, a summer evening at a beachside nightclub in the Black Sea resort of Sochi was an intense and exhilarating experience. Russian fighters dominated in a mixed martial arts contest against a “world” team, with scantily dressed women cheering them on with Russian flags. The crowd erupted with cheers as the home squad achieved victory after victory, reaching a peak when a 44-year-old American fighter was knocked out.
Vladimir Putin himself was in attendance, sitting in a front-row seat wearing a white dress shirt and surrounded by security guards and political followers. Little did anyone know that six months later, Russia’s president would initiate the country’s path to war by seizing Crimea from Ukraine, leading to a full-scale invasion now entering its third year next week.
The mixed martial arts contest at the nightclub was just one example of the excitement and energy that Sochi had been buzzing with during the summer of 2013. The city had been preparing for the Winter Olympics, which were set to take place there just two years later. But even as athletes from all over the world began arriving in Sochi to train for the games, there was already talk of conflict brewing between Russia and Ukraine.
In November 2013, Vladimir Putin announced that Russia would be annexing Crimea from Ukraine. The move sparked outrage around the world and led to economic sanctions being imposed on Russia by many countries. But despite these sanctions, Putin remained determined to keep control of Crimea and maintain his grip on power in Russia.
Today, three years later, tensions between Russia and Ukraine are still high. There have been ongoing skirmishes along the border between the two countries, and many people have been displaced as a result of the conflict. But despite these challenges, there are also signs that progress is being made towards resolving the conflict peacefully.