Sochi Olympics' 'ugly environmental legacy' on a small village: Nahlah Ayed
“I lost everything," says Ashtyr resident Alexander Koropov. "I became an ‘Olympic bum.’”
Alexander Koropov has lived on the same, tranquil hill for 25 years. So when a train suddenly whistled past, practically through his backyard, he could no longer sleep.
In fact, there has been much to keep him sleepless ever since Russian President Vladimir Putin succeeded in convincing the International Olympic Committee to choose Sochi as the 2014 host city.
Now, seven years later, the Olympics are nearly over — already time to consider how Sochi will move beyond the games.
Koropov, meanwhile, is poorer, sicker, and more frustrated than ever. His land, once home to a thriving garden and surrounded by trees, is also worse for wear: now a hill of stubs, and a desiccated garden of weeds — where there were once apples, hazelnuts and figs.
If he could afford it, he says, he would move, even go abroad to claim asylum, just to try to salvage something of his life.
“I lost everything,” he says in an interview. “I am like a beggar now. I became an ‘Olympic bum.’”
Koropov lives in the village of Ashtyr, population 120, give or take a few. Since the Olympics started, hundreds of thousands of people have been in a train or a car within metres of Ashtyr, but never saw it — so tiny, it is that easy to miss.
Insignificant enough, it seems, that designers neglected to link it to the new highway and train line constructed for some $9 billion to move visitors between the two built-from-scratch Olympic clusters.
So there is now only one way in or out of the village.
And yet in more than one way, the Olympics and its infrastructure have been thrust into Ashtyr’s backyard. Including the punctual, blazing red train that regularly zips across the bridge that now shadows Koropov’s property.
'How can you live like that?'
“I want to show you my land and how close it is to the railway,” says Koropov as he begins a practised tour of his disheveled property, which saw its worst days during the three years it took to build the bridge that now holds the railway and highway.
“There is a train right above my head day and night. How can you live like that?”
It’s easy to lose count of the ways Ashtyr residents say they have been wronged by the Olympic Games — the ways in which they will remember the Games and the preparations that have possessed their region for nearly a decade.
Limestone quarries sit like open wounds nearby. Trucks used to travel back and forth from them every day, kicking up clouds of dust.
At one point there was illegal dumping. New power lines were set up only to supply a nearby military installation — and the train line of course — bypassing the village’s ancient lines entirely. Water wells were damaged in the construction, forcing residents to rely on water that has to be hauled in three times a week and stored in large plastic tanks.
The IOC president visited the village last year and was promised the water matter would be resolved before the Olympics began. It’s yet to happen.
“Yes it’s taking its time,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams said recently in response to a journalist’s question. “We have asked the local authority to come back to us and I believe we have a promise that by the end of March they will have water.”
A bus started to come a few times a day to transport residents in and out of the village. But only erratically. And only after repeated complaints.
“[The area] was very beautiful. There were huge trees,” says Koropov.
“The river got smaller, and almost no fish in it now. Even the fish you get now smells like diesel fuel.”
'Been written off the records'
He says most of his land has been seized and declared public property. Demands for compensation have largely gone unheard.
“It’s like we have all been written off the records,” says Koropov.
He doesn’t blame Putin. He says the responsibility lies with the local authorities. He can’t afford to go to court.
“This is how the Olympics turned out for us.”
He says the village wasn’t against the idea of hosting the Olympics. But residents never expected the ugly environmental legacy such an international event could leave behind.
“No one speaks about the dark side of the Olympics,” he says ruefully.
“Only the positive side: How it is beautiful near the sea, and well, it’s true. But just look here. I am twenty metres from the highway.”
Forgotten before, and during the Olympics, they suspect they will also be forgotten after, when it’s all over.