WASHINGTON — Organizers of the Winter Olympics in Russia are scrambling to fix problems that are plaguing hotels and other facilities ahead of the Games opening ceremonies on Friday. Some foreign workers have alleged that they were operating under inhumane conditions in Sochi and then dismissed without their agreed upon pay.
Foreign dignitaries arriving in Sochi include some of the world's top leaders, such as Chinese President Xi Jinping and United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon. They are sure to enjoy red carpet treatment in the Russian resort, but others are not.
VOA reporter Parke Brewer said journalists have encountered a host of problems - the most serious being a lack of Internet connectivity. However, he said, that is not all.
"Some of the biggest problems, one experienced by my colleague John Speer as he arrived Thursday midday: when he got to his hotel room -- guess what -- there was another person in his hotel room and that's the second story I heard of that happening. There was another gentleman who traveled 23 hours. He got here at 3:00 am in the morning and got into his room, and there was another man in his bed. So there's definitely been some problems. I talked to a Russian lady reporter who had some mice scurrying around in her room. A colleague across the hall from me got locked in her room Thursday morning," said Brewer.
Twin toilets lacking privacy partitions have been the object of jokes in the Western media for weeks. Washington Post Moscow Bureau Chief Cathy Lally found them at the Ekaterininskiy Kvartal hotel, where she is staying.
"A couple of weeks ago, there were a lot of conversations about this toilet because one was seen in the biathlon centre. Then, Russians started saying 'Oh no! It's not really like that. That was just a place where the partition has been torn down because they were turning it into a store room.’ So, they were saying that it wasn't true that there are a lot of double toilets. Well, here we have one,” said Lally.
A maintenance worker at the hotel, Pavel Osipov, said partitions are going to be installed.
"The partitions and the doors will be installed tomorrow. We apologize to the hotel guests for the inconvenience. This toilet is just not finished yet," said Osipov.
However, even if toilet partitions are built, problems experienced by some foreign workers who helped build the Olympic facilities will be harder to solve. More than 120 workers from Serbia and Bosnia were deported from Russia earlier this month. Some of them claim they were not paid, or received much less than the agreed amount.
"I think that the orders were given that all the foreign workers had to leave Sochi for security reasons until a certain date, some say until January 5, others say until January 15. Our bosses knew about it and because we stayed after these dates, they used it as a chance to have us arrested by the police without having to pay us for our work," said Predrag Lero, a Bosnian worker who was deported from Russia.
Workers also said their accommodations were substandard, often lacking such basics as electric light in their rooms.
Moscow has spent a reported $45 billion on hosting the Games, making these the most expensive winter Olympics in history.