The nightclub in the Black Sea resort of Sochi was buzzing with excitement during a summer evening in August 2013. Russian fighters dominated the mixed martial arts competition against the “world” team, with scantily clad women cheering them on with Russian flags. The crowd roared with cheers as the home team racked up win after win, culminating when the 44-year-old American fighter was knocked out.
The event took place just six months before Russia would start its path to war by seizing Crimea from Ukraine, leading to a full-scale invasion now entering its third year next week. Vladimir Putin himself sat in the front row in a white shirt and surrounded by security guards and political followers, little did anyone know that this peaceful night out would be followed by such tumultuous events.