The eyes of the world will be on this country, once hidden under the cloak of communism. One local couple knows a thing or two about what that's like.
"It looks like another world now," laughs Kim Kulagina of Scranton. She is shocked to see Sochi, Russia today. The city is hosting world-class athletes for the 2014 Winter Olympics. Back in the late '70s when she was a tour guide there, it was a different story.
"It was a small resort town. It was pretty. I enjoyed it. But the hotels were kind of rundown. As most of the Soviet hotels were rundown. As a tour guide I knew that well, because I always had to remedy problems, when people ran out of toilet paper," she recalls.
Kim studied in Leningrad now known as St. Petersburg, back when the Soviet Union was alive. She has a degree in Russian and Eastern European studies from University of Michigan and says Russian culture, primarily the women's movement at the time, drew her to the country. "Women in Russia excelled in all of the professions, some of which were closed at the time to American women ... engineering, doctors."
There she met the love of her life.
"When I first met Igor, he was afraid of me." The two met through a mutual friend. "He wouldn't talk to me because he thought Americans were all spies. He was afraid of me. I thought he was a real interesting guy," laughs Kim.
Kim and Igor married in Moscow and lived there for a few years before moving back to Kim's hometown of Scranton. Here they sell Igor's traditional Russian art, including the popular Russian Nesting dolls, called Matryoshkas and landscape paintings of Russian scenery.
Igor doesn't speak much English, in fact the couple primarily talks to each other in Russian, with Kim translating for Igor.
They are thrilled people from around the world will get the chance to see the country they love. Kim recalls the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, when the United States boycotted the games. She says her Russian friends were disappointed to miss out on meeting Americans. "Sports is a great way for people to get to know each other and enjoy watching the competition. I think it's wonderful for our cultures."
Plus, it's a chance for us to learn a new language.
Kim will be the resident Eyewitness News translator during the Sochi Olympics. Each day she will teach us a word of the day. Tune in to Eyewitness News Daybreak and Eyewitness News at 6 p.m. to hear the Russian Word of the Day.
You can find Igor's art at "Art Seen on the Square" located in Wilkes-Barre. The Gallery is open from 10 AM to 5 PM Monday to Friday. 10:30 AM to 2:30 PM Saturdays.
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