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An in-depth report by our senior reporters and team of correspondents from around the world. Every Saturday at 8.40 pm Paris time.

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Latest update : 2014-02-07

The dark side of the Sochi Olympics

For the past five years, Sochi has lived at a frenetic pace of construction. The most expensive Olympic Winter Games in history will be held from February 7th in this small Russian seaside resort located between the Black Sea and the mountains of the Caucasus. Our reporter made the trip.

Sochi is a relatively young city, founded in 1838. At the time, the inhabitants lived mostly in the mountains, shunning the sea where mosquitoes and malaria made life impossible. It was not until the 1930s and particularly after World War II that it became a popular resort. Joseph Stalin had the marshes bordering the sea drained. He had hospitals and sanatoriums built, where the injured from World War II were treated, as well as hotels and villas where the elite spent their holidays.

At that point, Sochi became a city for VIPs. An eminently political place, its evolution was punctuated by edicts from Moscow.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the small seaside resort kept its status of the Russian elite’s favourite city. Vladimir Putin is no exception. The Kremlin strongman was personally involved in Sochi’s bid for the Winter Olympics. He has been the most ardent spokesman for its Games, rejecting all criticism. Corruption, exploitation of workers, abusive expropriations, an environmental disaster linked to the site… “No, none of that exists!” the Russian president insists.

On the ground, however, we discovered a quite different reality. We met Angela Zilberg, whose house was destroyed without proper expertise and without compensation. We also met Roman, the worker who sewed his lips together because his employer at the Olympic site refused to pay his salary. We also went to Akhsthyr, a dust-covered village where the suffering of the inhabitants is matched only by the indifference of the local authorities, who leave them with no running water, squeezed between two stone quarries...

Beyond the buildings and brand new hotels that have sprung up so that Sochi can be all ready to host the Winter Olympics on February 7, we discovered the darker side of the Olympic sites.

By Ksenia BOLCHAKOVA

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