Conflict & Justice

Sochi families displaced by Olympics hit bureaucratic limbo in fight for permanent housing


Lyudmila Sdavelyev, 63, stands outside her family’s temporary apartment in an inner courtyard in Sochi, Russia. Her family shares a communal kitchen with other residents of the building.


Angus West

The family will eventually need to leave their temporary apartment, but they don’t know when. Lyudmila said she is 39th in a queue to receive permanent housing from the government, and is trying to find out how long they can stay, while they continue to search for a permanent place.

“We are waiting for the results, because this building belongs to Moscow,” she said. “We have no rights to be living here [indefinitely].”

Lyudmila is also trying to prove that the eviction was illegal, which is why she was going to court on Wednesday night. She said she hopes to bring the case to court in a higher jurisdiction in St. Petersburg.

“The case was sent to Moscow, came down to Krasnodar region, then local in Sochi, and so on,” she said. “I also applied to Putin’s office, but there was no answer. He only said: ‘You have the right to apply to a court.’ And it’s a circle.”

She added: “President Putin on TV, he speaks very beautifully. His words are okay, but his deeds — you could say the opposite. I hope if I meet him personally, not through his administrative workers, there would be action.”

Even though the Olympics led to their eviction, Lyudmila said that she thought there was a chance she would meet Putin with the attention Sochi is receiving from the games.

“I don’t know [if I wish the Olympics didn’t happen] because the city is very beautiful now, it’s very modern. And of course it’s very good for the city. But for me personally, it’s not the Olympics. It’s the administration; the courts are corrupted. You can’t complain to anyone.”

Alexey and Natalya sleep most nights at the family’s apartment with Lyudmila and their two kids, but because their apartment is crowded, they sometimes sleep in the boxes they put on their neighbor’s land by the road.

“There is no furniture, no property. We lost everything. All the furniture was spoiled because it was in the street. Only the TV set was left,” Lyudmila said, pointing to a television in the room. “We came here without anything. We not only lost our house, but our food and clothes were spoiled because it was very damp.”

Their neighbor’s house was saved because it was outside the highway’s path, but only just. It is squeezed between the new highway and a road to Abkhazia, the breakaway republic of Georgia.

“I am miserable. I am sick and tired,” Natalya said Wednesday afternoon at the neighbor’s property. “We are not sure, we are frustrated. We are sick and tired of the uncertain situation. And we don’t believe we will have a positive outcome.”

Hosting an Olympics historically overruns initial cost estimates, but the human cost of the Olympics is easily overlooked, and the plight of locals can easily be brushed over once the international media moves on.

This could be especially true for the Sochi Olympics, which cost over four times an initial estimate of $12 billion and more than every other Winter Olympics combined, while surpassing $40 spent by China for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

Disputed accounting measures is another common feature of hosting the Games. Dmitry Kozak, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister, who oversaw Russia’s Olympics preparations, said that only $6 billion was spent in Sochi for the games themselves, excluding necessary regional infrastructure improvements.

Recently, a Swiss member of the IOC, GianFranco Kasper, who is also president of the International Ski Federation (ISF), said at least one-third of the $51 billion spent on the Sochi Olympics was due to corruption. Two Russian politicians, Boris Nemtsov and Leonid Martynyuk, have suggested the amount was even higher.

Critics argue that for international sporting events like the Olympics, total costs and related investments have been blown out of proportion compared to the athletic competition they are supposed to promote.

The London Olympics is held out by some critics as a recent example of a cost-effective games, with a main Olympic stadium that is being leased to the West Ham United soccer club, and other venues built in temporary installments for their capacity to be reduced or to be removed after the games.

With the rising cost of the Olympics, protests have become a common theme: the 2018 World Cup in Russia has raised concerns over preparedness like those before Sochi; government spending for next summer’s World Cup in Brazil was at the root of widespread protests in the country last summer, and also with Brazil’s hosting the 2016 Summer Olympics on the horizon.

In the past, the IOC has faced accusations of awarding the games to countries whose delegates bribe IOC members, as well as choosing countries who have poor records on human rights, standing against values stated by the Olympic Charter.

Critics have also argued that the Olympics should not be awarded to countries with autocratic rulers, who are willing to use the games as an excuse to pump money into underprepared areas to flaunt their own power, another mark against Russia’s President Vladimir Putin hosting the games.

Russia’s effort to rebrand itself and remake its image abroad by hosting the games is still proving to be at least a partial success.

What is far from clear, both historically and with the games in Sochi—beyond whether the Olympics will benefit the host country in the long-term—is what comes at the expense of local residents, whose voices are often suppressed for the notoriety of holding a worldwide event.

Many Russians visiting Sochi, as well as locals in the area — including some of the 2,000 displaced residents—were excited by the games and the attention they received.

Still, the Savelyev’s are not alone in their suffering. Some of their former neighbors are in temporary accommodation in the same building, and like the Savelyev’s, are still looking for answers.

Lyudmila, who could not be reached to comment after her court hearing on Thursday, is determined to continue fighting for their family’s home.

“I’m not going to stop. I’m going to fight to the end. I have nowhere to go, I have nothing. All my property, all my money, were put in that house I built, and now I’ve lost the house, I have nothing left loose. And I’m going to fight,” she said. “All my life I was working hard,” she added.

Alexey and Natalya are less optimistic. “The courts are not on our sides,” Natalya said. “We don’t know the reason.”

Alexey, looking at the snow-covered North Caucasus mountains beyond the highway, wondered why this happened to them.

“The judge won’t make a decision,” he said. “‘Where do you have for me to go with my children?’” he said he asked at court hearings. “And they do not even look me in the eye.”

This is Part Two of a two-part series. Click here for Part One.