Black Sea Residents Evicted for Olympic Village

NIZHNEIMERETINSKAYA BUKHTA, Krasnodar Region -- Valery's eyes burn ice blue as he stares toward the Black Sea coast just meters from his house. The local government has given him three months to pack up and leave as the country begins preparing to turn Sochi and its environs into an Olympic playland.

But Valery says he will not go quietly.

"I have knives and an ax, and I'm ready to use them," he said on a recent afternoon, sitting under the plastic tent that guards his front yard from the midday sun.

"If they come to tear down this house, I will take a knife and use it," he said.

Residents in Nizhneimeretinskaya Bukhta, a town 45 kilometers from Sochi near the border with Abkhazia, are being forced from their homes to make way for the Olympic Village that will serve as one of the main sites for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

All 119 houses in the neighborhood, home to some 400 people, will be razed and replaced with elite hotels, ice rinks and manicured grounds. The houses, simple structures, line the Black Sea shore. There are a few shops, steps away from the rocky beach. These will be razed too.

In late November, the State Duma passed a bill condoning the evictions, arguing that to get the Olympic sites built on time, residents would be given a three-month window, rather than the regular year, to leave their homes.

Valery, who like other residents declined to give his last name for fear of reprisals, said he received a letter on Aug. 18 telling him it was time to go.

"This is my private property -- they should ask me first if I agree to leave or not. And I don't agree," he said.

The Olympic Village complex, known as the Imeretinskaya Riviera, is being built by Altius Development, part of the Basic Element holding owned by billionaire Oleg Deripaska. An Altius spokesman did not respond to written requests for comment.

"We built our houses with our own hard-earned money, unlike [Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin. Why should his children and the oligarchs' children get to play in the sea while ours are chased into the mountains?" asked Valery, 57, who makes his living fixing refrigerators. He sold his apartment in Sochi and dacha to build the house and says he has suffered two heart attacks since the ordeal began.

The legislation passed in November foresees the residents receiving compensation, but Valery and others doubt they will receive a fair price. And they say it will be hard to put a price on the difficulty of finding new work, explaining the move to their children and setting up a new life.

"They know nothing -- not where they will send us or for how much they will value our houses and land," said Alexander, a 53-year-old ambulance driver who also lives in the neighborhood. "First, they'll hold the Olympics, then they'll sell off parts of the land, and of course it will go to the oligarchs."

Alexander said the land in the town is worth about $150,000 per sotka, or 100 square meters.

Valery Suchov, the head of residents' rights organization Svoi Dom, sees it as even higher. "We think we should get the market price," he said by telephone. "That would be $250,000 to $350,000 per sotka."

The biggest worry, said Suchov and residents of Nizhneimeretinskaya Bukhta, is how the land will be valued.

Valery said a government surveyor had visited his property the day before. "He looked around and noted some things but not others. When I asked why, he said, 'These things are worth kopeks!' I said, 'Fine, sir, but they are my kopeks, not yours.'"

The state has set aside 89 billion rubles ($3.4 billion) to buy up the land and compensate the residents, said Deputy Yevgeny Fyodorov, who heads the Duma's Committee on Economic Policy, Entrepreneurship and Tourism, which oversaw the November bill.

"Everyone will get something, no matter what -- not just property owners but renters too," Fyodorov said in a telephone interview. "Compensation will be handed out 100 percent according to market levels."

He laughed off the residents' concerns. "What are they worried about if they haven't even seen the valuation yet? They're worrying before they've gotten any news."

"[We] are confident that the local and regional administration will do everything they can in the interests of citizens' welfare for those affected by development," said a spokeswoman for the Olympics Organizing Committee, declining to give her name in line with internal policy.

It's the human factor that appears to be missing. Repeated requests for comment from the Sochi city administration and the Krasnodar regional administration went unanswered. In a country where everything can be bought for the right price, few care to hear the people's concerns. "I don't know the value of my house," Valery conceded. "All I know is I've given up my health, my apartment, my dacha, but I don't know what it's worth. It's priceless."