Letter from Yoshkar-Ola (Republic of Mari El, Russia) – for The Calvert Journal

At 7am the streets of Yoshkar-Ola were dark and empty. As I shuffled over dirty snow and treacherous black ice, the only sound was the bickering of ravens overhead. The shops on ulitsa Kremlyovskaya – Apteka No. 67; Evroset; Moda 21 vek – told me that I had arrived in provincial Russia. Except that ul. Kremlyovskaya is also Kreml urem: street signs and building plaques are written in Russian and Meadow Mari, the most widely spoken of the four Mari dialects.

I made a beeline for the peculiar buildings in the distance.

The Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games

South Korean figure skater Yuna Kim, a superstar in her homeland, will be competing for the last time at the age of 23. Contenders at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games come mainly from the traditional medal-hungry nations – Canada, Germany, the USA, Norway, South Korea and Switzerland topped the table in 2010 – but athletes from some snow-starved parts of the world are also making their way to Sochi. This year there will be competitors from Brazil, Cyprus, the Philippines… and even the tiny kingdom of Tonga.