Photo by Ken King - Opening Ceremonies

Photo by Ken King

By Brian Rank

SOCHI, Russia – In a spectacle of ice, fire and jubilation, the Sochi Winter Paralympics opened on Friday. The ceremony showcased Russia’s effort to prove it is renewed and ready to welcome the Paralympians after a history of intolerance toward people with disabilities.

The flawless ceremony that displayed Russia’s rich history and culture created an elated atmosphere inside Fisht Olympic Stadium, but could not keep out the uncomfortable realities building outside. The tense international climate around Putin’s involvement in Ukraine and Russia’s controversial stance on people who are gay or lesbian made their way into the proceedings in sometimes less-than-subtle words and actions.

But for most of the attendees, it was a night for celebrating the athletes from 45 nations that had made it this far and who will be competing for the 72 medals over the next week.

One of the most symbolically important moments of the night was when R