SOCHI, Russia – A shining new $635 million highway on the outskirts of Sochi stands next to a crumbling apartment block with a red SOS! banner on its roof.
The residents of 5a Akatsy street have lived for years with no running water or sewage system. Construction for the 2014 Winter Games has made their lives more miserable: The new highway has cut them off from the city center. Even their communal outhouse had to be torn down because it was found to be too close to the new road and ruled an eyesore.
The slum is one of the many facets of a hidden dark side in the host city of next month’s Winter Olympics, which stands side-by-side with the glittering new construction projects that President Vladimir Putin is touting as a symbol of Russia’s transformation from a dysfunctional Soviet leviathan to a successful, modern economy. While state-run TV trains its cameras on luxury malls, sleek stadiums and high-speed train links, thousands of ordinary people in the Sochi area put up with squalor and environmental waste: villagers living next to an illegal dump filled with Olympic construction waste, families whose homes are sinking into the earth, city dwellers suffering chronic power cuts despite promises to improve electricity.
Putin promoted the Sochi Games, which begin on Feb. 7, as a unique opportunity to bring investment to the Black Sea resort and improve living standards for its 350,000 residents.
People elsewhere in Sochi and surrounding villages have seen the quality of their life decline because of Olympic construction. In the village of Akhshtyr, residents complain about an illegal landfill operated by an Olympics contractor that has fouled the air and a stream that feeds the Sochi water supply.
Sochi residents also complain about widespread environmental damage, including the destruction of forests and the contamination of a river running down to the sea.