About 500 companies and 96,000 workers are laboring in this city of 345,000, Dmitri Kozak, the deputy prime minister overseeing the Olympic project, told reporters recently. Construction roars along 24 hours a day, leaving some residents dazed. Others are protesting. All are weary of the pounding of jackhammers and the clouds of dust.
Sochi is being transformed not only by stadiums and ski jumps but also by new roads, 22 tunnels, train stations, miles of railroad track, high-rise apartments, new sidewalks, construction of eight power plants and a new grid system to replace a now-precarious supply of electricity.
Bulldozers have torn the neighborhood of Mirny, near the giant Olympic media center, in half to make way for new buildings and highway interchanges. Many of the construction workers are migrants, especially from Central Asia, who get miserable wages and sometimes are not paid at all, according to a Human Rights Watch report issued this month.
And every day residents of the small settlement of Kudepsta gather near their backyard stream a few miles from the Olympic ice rinks, ready to block heavy equipment with their bodies in an effort to fend off construction of a thermal power plant they contend will poison them.
They began mobilizing in May against the plant on the Kudepsta River, setting up a 24-hour camp to block construction after workers began clearing a forested ridge about 500 yards from apartment buildings and a school. They have managed to stall the project, which was supposed to be completed by November of this year, because work began without the required permits and environmental studies. But they fear they will lose eventually.
“We have written to the president’s office and the governor,” said Tatyana Osipova, a Kudepsta resident, “and we’re not getting any answers.”
Vladimir Ivanov, a 63-year-old pensioner, said he spent 40 years working at the Norilsk Nickel plant above the Arctic Circle, surviving ferociously cold winters and health-threatening pollution. He used his life savings to buy a small piece of land and build a house in Kudepsta, close to the water and hillsides thick with greenery. All will be ruined by a power plant spreading pollution, he said. “I got out of one prison,” he said, “and entered another.”
Officials have assured residents that the plant will be built according to strict European standards, with filters preventing the dispersal of any pollutants. But most Russians do not trust their officials, and the people of Kudepsta insist that they are being misled, that officials act only in their own self-interest despite all the assertions to the contrary. Neither do they believe Sochi will become a tourist mecca. Turkey has lower prices and better service, they say.