In a powerful exposé written Feb. 6 by the Los Angeles Times, we are taken behind the curtain and shown some of Russia’s dirty secrets surrounding the inexorable machine of progress that transformed the unknown city of Sochi into a bustling hub of Olympic beauty.
“There is nothing I hate so much as these Olympic Games, which made me and my family a miserable bunch of bums,” said 63-year-old Sochi resident Nina Toromonyan.
When the city of Sochi was announced as the host of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Toromonyan, like many others, rejoiced at the thought of her city being transformed and brought to the world’s center stage. Yet the “progress” resulted in her home being reduced to rubble. She and her 13 family members were forcefully evicted to make way for a new highway.
The compensation they received, says Toromonyan, was not enough for them to find suitable new housing. The LA Times said that as “thousands of people waved flags, held balloons and cheered Thursday as the Olympic torch passed by,” Toromonyan “stood in the gray rubble that remains of her home and cried.”
Her story is but one of many tragic narratives that are lost amid the Olympic hype and excitement surrounding the games. In Vancouver, the host city of the 2010 winter games, officials swept through the city and literally bussed the homeless straight out of town. A similar incursion occurred in London prior to the 2012 summer games.
Yuri Maryan, head of Sochi's nongovernmental anti-corruption coalition, said dozens of families were displaced prior to the start of the Olympics, citing Russian Law 301 – essentially an Eminent Domain type of seizure and demolition of privately owned land.
“It was a very Soviet way of doing things: anything for a noble purpose,” Maryan said. “Given the ample corruption around this theme, the project became a disaster for many families.”
Toromonyan, who lived with her family in the now-demolished house since 1970, described a Gestapo-like raid and takeover of her home. On Oct. 23, Toromonyan says police showed up wearing black masks and armed with Kalashnikov rifles and clubs. They evicted her family at gunpoint.
The LA Times picks up the story:
“One officer dragged Toromonyan's older sister by the hair as she kicked and wailed. Toromonyan's 63-year-old husband, Karapet, tried to intervene but was clubbed and forced to the ground, she said. One of the frightened grandchildren, 9-year-old Grisha, pleaded with the policemen: ‘Please, don't shoot, don't kill us.’ His mother tried to calm him, saying it was just a movie being shot and no one would get hurt.”
Toromonyan says the home was deeded to her family by the Russian government over 50 years ago, in order to honor her father-in-law for “his bravery in the army in World War II.” She said she still has the now-yellowed legal document, and had repeatedly shown it to bureaucrats as she fought her eviction. But to them, it was rubbish.
“In accordance with that law we have relocated more than 1,000 people and we paid good compensation or offered them other housing,” claims Sergei Somko, deputy chief of the Olympics department of the Krasnodar regional administration. “Very few people complained, and when they did it was up to courts to decide what should be done. Those houses that were initially built with violations, or illegally, were not entitled to compensations.”
Toromonyan’s extended family is now split up and renting cheap apartments in Sochi. Toromonyan, her husband, their daughter and granddaughter were forced to rent only two rooms for the foursome in an unfinished house, less than a mile from where their home once stood.