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Helmut Schmidt, Published February 05 2014

F-M's Russian natives ready for Friday's opening of the Sochi Games

FARGO - Evelina Shindieva has what she calls “a professional interest” in this year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

The petite, black-haired native of St. Petersburg spent 10 years in the Russian sports system, training as an ice skater.

The Fargo businesswoman may not have made it to international competition, but she knows a winner when she sees one on skates.

“Well, I’m definitely going to watch figure skating because I figure-skated myself for 10 years,” the owner of Roza’s Sewing and Alterations said Tuesday.

But she has mixed feelings about who to root for. She came to the U.S. in 1996 at the age of 26. Now she has a son who grew up here, she said.

“I cheer for Americans. I cheer for Russians. I cheer for both. Since I’d been skating for 10 years, I can see professionally, who is better or who is not,” she said.

“And I’m going to definitely watch hockey. I’m a hockey fan,” she said proudly, ticking off a list of her favorite Russian players, most of whom play in America’s National Hockey League. “And snowboarding. And I like bobsled.”

Shindieva is perhaps the most vocal, and most excited, of the Russian natives contacted by The Forum in the lead-up to Friday’s opening ceremonies of the Sochi Games.

Like more sports-focused Americans, Shindieva said she might get together with a few friends to watch some of the events. And she’ll stay up late to catch some of the competition live, though the 10-hour time difference could play havoc with sleep.

Shindieva said she was invited to go to the Games but put it out of her mind because it’s in the middle of the school year.

“I have friends that live in Sochi and I have friends that are flying there” from Moscow and St. Petersburg. “I’m Russian. Russians have friends everywhere!” she said.

“It’s not a big deal for me. If that were somewhere like in Winnipeg, I’d probably consider going, but, you know, it’s too far,” Shindieva said.

Best of luck from KGB

Konstantin Arutyunov of Moorhead, known to some of his friends and customers by the nickname “KGB,” said he’ll be watching hockey and his wife will concentrate on figure skating.

“Typically, we’re watching Olympics whenever it’s available on TV,” said the sales manager at Fargo’s Valley Imports.

He, too, grew up with sports in Russia, concentrating on soccer and basketball.

He’s been a U.S. citizen for 18 years, so he’ll cheer for Americans first. But if there aren’t any Americans in the picture, he’ll cheer on the Russian competitors.

“I wish every Olympic person luck,” Arutyunov said.

Watching for beauty

Larisa Khanarina studies biotechnology at North Dakota State University.

The 21-year-old’s mother and stepfather live in Fargo, though Khanarina said home is Oryol in central Russia.

She’s not a big sports fan, but because the Winter Games are in Russia, she will watch “the more interesting stuff,” which includes skiing “because it’s very beautiful.”

She’s also followed the path of the Olympic torch. It went through her hometown in mid-January.

“For each city, it was a small holiday,” she said.

Khanarina said Sochi is “a very beautiful area,” with beaches on the Black Sea.

Its mild climate has long made it a summer vacation mecca, but the rugged Caucasus Mountains close by make it a winter fun spot, too.

But others say Sochi has been hurt by too much change.

Yuri Shiyan grew up in Sochi. He and his longtime companion, Oksana Lodyzhenskaya, a native of Moscow, both say the beauty of the area has been sullied by construction.

The pair, who lived much of their time in Los Angeles, stopped by Shindieva’s shop Wednesday afternoon. They said the Black Sea and its beaches are much dirtier now,

Sochi now has a “corporate city” feel, Shiyan said.

“Personally, I don’t like it,” he said. “It was a beautiful environment. Now, everywhere there is waste.”

Lodyzhenskaya compared Sochi to the Aspen, Colo., area. She agrees that that area has lost much of its old charm.

“It doesn’t have that zest anymore,” she said.

‘Strong control’

To some extent, the worries about security are valid, Shiyan said. The area can be well-controlled from the south, but the north and east have a lot of wild country that people could potentially filter through.

Those areas are now reportedly being watched over by the Russian military.

Lodyzhenskaya said she’s been told by friends in the Sochi area that security is tight, with tabs even being kept on private hunting weapons.

“There’s a very strong control of people in Sochi,” Lodyzhenskaya said.

All of those interviewed said they think the Winter Games will be safe from a major incident.

“Every time you have some kind of events, there’s always terrorists around. It doesn’t matter what country,” Arutyunov said.

Even the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta had a bombing in Centennial Olympic Park, he said.

That blast, a case of domestic terrorism, killed one person and injured more than 100.

“I assume the Russian police and military will do the best that they can,” Arutyunov said.

Khanarina believes the Games will be safe, if only because Russia has its reputation on the line to make sure they go off without a hitch.

“I have no worries. They’ll take care of it,” Shindieva said. “It’s the subject to speculate; it’s the subject to talk about. I’m pretty much sure everything is going to be OK,” she said.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583