SOCHI SCENE: Amid fans, the dead

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) - Stadiums, the Olympic torch, food stalls - what else can you expect to see in an Olympic park? In Sochi: a cemetery.

A small graveyard of Old Believers, a purist sect that branched out of the Russian Orthodox during the 17th century, is smack in the middle of Olympic Park in Sochi. It goes completely unnoticed by passers-by who walk along a round plot of land surrounded by a tinted glass fence and lined with almost identical and impenetrable fir trees.

Guarding the entrance to the cemetery are four police officers from Moscow and a police van.

“Why should we, Russians, bother?” said one, who wouldn’t give his name when approached. “We always turn a funeral into a wedding.”

Before construction for the Sochi Games began in the Imeritinskaya Valley, the area that is now Olympic Park was home to a community of Old Believers, with a cemetery next to it. The Old Believers have been relocated to a village nearby, but they insisted on leaving the graves of their forebears intact.

The cemetery has been open for a century, the Sochi organizing committee’s chief, Dmitry Cheryshenko, said last year. He said not moving it was a necessary concession to the community.

Most spectators who come to see Olympic competitions pass the tree-lined circle unaware of what is inside it. Many say see nothing wrong with preserving the place of eternal rest amid the Olympic festivities.

“The most important thing is that they kept it,” said Nadezhda Muizhezemnik. “One should treat death calmly. We will all have to go through it.”

- By Nataliya Vasilyeva - Twitter https://twitter.com/NatVasilyevaAP

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Associated Press reporters will be filing dispatches about happenings in and around Sochi during the 2014 Winter Games. Follow AP journalists covering the Olympics on Twitter: http://apne.ws/1c3WMiu

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