Olympic construction ruins Russian village

For over five years, the residents of the village of Akhshtyr have suffered due to construction leading up to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Construction has depleted the village’s resources and left its residents with limited running water for drinking and crop irrigation. Although Russian authorities have recognized the problem and made efforts to deliver water on a weekly basis, the residents continue to complain that Akhshtyr still does not receive an adequate supply of water.

And Akhshtyr’s post-construction woes do not end here.

The absence of a single entry or exit ramp along the 48-kilometer road connecting the two Olympic venues has contributed to Akhshtyr’s isolation from all other Russian cities.

Furthermore, villagers reported to the Human Rights Watch that there is no secure way to cross the road, which cuts through an important path. This path is the primary medium to access the main avenue connecting villagers with buses and taxis to get to school and work. Without access to the path, residents of Akhshtyr say that their average commute times have increased by two hours, according to the Human Rights Watch.

To make matters worse, several trucks transporting building materials have created noise and dust pollution amidst the village. For many of the villagers, who rely heavily on crop fields for income, the resulting pollution has damaged their crops and threatened their livelihoods.

Akhshtyr resident Tatiana Velikaia told the Human Rights Watch, “My neighbor couldn’t sell anything because a layer of cement dust (had settled) on the peaches (that she was growing).”

“It is shocking that the Olympics can affect the environment in such devastating ways,” said Cassie Vaughn, a sophomore on the women’s soccer team at Guilford College.

Another concerned student, sophomore Harrison Houlihan, is “disgusted by the ridiculous waste of resources and blatantly open corruption.”

How can the Russian government make amends for neglecting the well being of Akhshtyr?

Much of the damage done appears to be irreversible. Worse, the voices of the Akhshtyr villagers may fall on deaf ears when the spotlight leaves Sochi after the Olympics.

Associate Professor of Sport Studies Bob Malekoff noted the need for putting more governmental pressure on the Olympic Committee to be more responsible about the games.

He believes that the Olympic Committee needs to look ahead when planning to host the Olympics and anticipate potential harm to the local population.

In the future, if construction isolates a village or has a lasting impact on people’s livelihoods, human rights authorities should be consulted ahead of time. If the committee adheres to the approved planning, citizens of multiple socioeconomic classes can more fully cherish hosting the Olympics.

“The games are supposed to be about unity and not about politics,” Malekoff said.

As important as the Olympics are in bringing together countries from all over the world, damaging people’s livelihoods for the long-term is no reasonable trade-off.

Plus, as far as the residents of Akhshtyr are concerned, controversy — not unity — will continue to envelop Sochi.

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