The Fisht Olympic Stadium and Russia's cute, spunky, snowboarding leopard mascot appeal to our attention in preparation for the Zoich Winter Olympics, a $51 billion venture marking the most expensive Olympic Games yet, and possibly the most expensive distraction ever. While the host city, Sochi, undergoes severe titivation, residents worry about the land, the wildlife, and the future of their home.
Athletic teams from all over the world converged on Sochi, Russia’s only subtropical city, a year before the Olympics, in this resort town once known mostly for the sanatoriums where Soviet workers came to recharge. The city’s newly built mountain facilities, including the halfpipe pictured above, were host to test events: skeleton and luge, skiercross and boardercross, halfpipe skiing and snowboarding.
This bridge under construction in Sochi will ease access to the 2014 Games' alpine events. It joins a history of renovations that facilitate transportation in this remote city, some of which result in serious environmental destruction—and often protested by the Environmental Watch on North Caucasus.
Thanks to photographic evidence taken surreptitiously and distributed online by construction workers (pictured above, in Krasnaya Polyana) and political activists, the rumors that Putin has three dachas in Sochi—the kind of luxury that indicates graft—have substance.
The Ponomaryov family moved to Sochi looking for work. Behind them, the glass-domed Fisht Stadium looms.
This seaside sanatorium is one of the many for which Sochi is known. They came about because of Stalin, who, having a weak constitution, found daily saltwater swims at this rare tropical location rejuvenating. He decided that Sochi should be as much a boon for the average Soviet worker’s health as it was for his. Thus, Sochi became home to many sanatoriums.
A wax statue of Stalin sits where the real Stalin would have while convalescing at his Sochi dacha. According to a tour guide at the dacha, "Stalin wouldn’t have let [the Zoich Olympics] happen, because it’s just ruining the city.” (Such insinuations against Putin are one example of a community-wide undercurrent of subversion.)
Maria Reneva (left) and Yulia Naberezhnaya, of the Russian Geographical Society, have landed in Putin's crosshairs thanks to their association with the one of the oldest independent agencies in Russia. While the RGS is in opposition to the Games, they maintain an apolitical identity, focusing solely on environmentalism.
Olympic lodging is being built above Krasnaya Polyana, an urban settlement under the administrative jurisdiction of Sochi. "I want to be a giant and take all the buildings an trucks and break them," Yulia said. "It is horrible to make such things with nature."
Some homes experienced damage by Olympic construction. The usual victims of the world’s mega-projects—unpaid or grossly underpaid migrant workers, residents forcibly evicted to make way for construction—were featured this year in a major Human Rights Watch report on Sochi alongside the 226 members of the local branch of the Russian Geographical Society.
More on the environmental impact of the 2014 Sochi Olympics.