SOCHI — People in Sochi faced huge disruptions in the years running up to the Winter Olympics, with the construction of brand new venues in the space of just seven years. So how do they feel about it now that the Games are underway?
The futuristic Olympic stadium and ice domes are a striking presence on the shoreline of Sochi. The $51 billion price tag has delivered facilities generally praised by athletes and spectators.
But what about the people who live here? Early skepticism appears to have been largely replaced by pride.
Anastasia Vodoloyev, a young mother who lives in Sochi, admits that initally she had misgivings.
“I was very disappointed when we found out the Olympic Games would be in Sochi,” she says, “because it caused so many problems for local people." But now that everything is finished, she says they are happy and proud.
Strolling through the tree-lined park in the city center, Vladimir Malegin agrees. Sochi is much improved, he says. Pointing to a new park, he says that all there used to be was a road. Now he’s happy because he can walk his dog there.
Sochi residents point to new road and rail projects they say have rid the city of traffic gridlock.
But the spruce up and construction have had an environmental cost. Since 2007, local residents have endured Europe’s biggest construction site on their doorstep. Many complain of waste being dumped in the countryside. Among them is Vladimir Kimaev from the group Northern Caucasus Environmental Watch.
“It's a very distressing situation for the residents of local villages,” he says, “because they are situated close to the waste dumps." He says, "there is construction waste and municipal waste, the whole range of garbage produced in Sochi,” says Kimaev.
Villages in the mountains behind Sochi have been transformed for some of the events. A new train puts the coast within 40 minutes.
Edouard Baturin, who lives in a small house in Krasnaya Polyana, says things are very different now.
“Before, everyone had chickens and pigs. Many people had cows, and we lived a village life,” he says. “Now because of the Olympics, all of this is gone and it is very hard for us to adapt.”
But Baturin is being won over by Olympic spirit. He says because they are hosting the Olympics, he is filled with pride.
Russian organizers say the huge cost will be repaid by the millions of tourists they predict will come to Sochi after the Games.
But there are doubts over whether visitors will arrive in such big numbers. A report by the credit rating agency Moody’s warns that the high cost of the event and other negative publicity limit the potential benefit to post-Olympic Sochi.
For now, people in Sochi appear proud to have the eyes of the world on their once quiet seaside city. The coming years will reveal if it was worth the price.