KAZACHY BROD, Russia – Even people who live 10 minutes away do not seem to know how to get to Akhshtyr, a mountain village that theoretically should be basking in the warm glow of the multibillion-dollar Olympic construction bonanza all around it.
“Walk over the bridge,” Valentina Kvasnikova advised on a recent afternoon, gesturing past her house toward a swaying, bouncing structure made of rickety, indifferently nailed-together wooden slats suspended above the turbid Mzymta River. Once the bridge was negotiated (and it was hard to know whether to crawl or to run), Akhshtyr loomed tantalizingly close – just across the new 30-mile high-speed railway tracks and the sleek new superhighway linking the Black Sea resort of Sochi to the mountains high above it.
But no ramp connects Akhshtyr to the new road. The train does not stop in the village, and according to eight police officers who emerged from different directions to deliver eight variations of “you can’t get there from here,” pedestrians are strictly forbidden to cross from one side to the other.
Being cut off from the main road is not the only indignity faced by Akhshtyr’s 200 or so residents since Russia decided to spend as much as $8 billion on a wildly ambitious plan to turn a sleepy Caucasian road into a major transportation corridor for its grand Olympic project.
Every Olympics has its local casualties – displaced neighborhoods, merchants who lose business, residents grumbling about traffic. But Akhshtyr, a hodgepodge of ramshackle houses and meandering farm animals nestled in the breathtakingly beautiful mountains between the Olympic Park on the Black Sea coast and the snow-sports venues of Krasnaya Polyana above, has fared very badly indeed.
For the past five years, construction trucks have rumbled day and night through the street that bisects the village. The village has gone without fresh water since 2008, ever since its drinking wells were wrecked by the vast new waste dump serving the vast new gravel quarry on the mountain. Now residents rely on intermittent water deliveries from the authorities.
Alexei Ivanovich, 36, who works in Kazachy Brod’s major tourist attraction, a trout fishery, said that nothing good had come from the Olympics so far, at least for him.
“It’s clearer to see the benefits for the government,” said Ivanovich. He and his wife live with their four daughters in an apartment that is barely 150 square feet, he said.
“It will be good if you tell [President Vladimir] Putin to pay attention to families with many children,” he said.
It turns out that there is a way to get to the village: by driving from the other direction on an old, winding road with no exits, leading from a single entrance near the Sochi airport. This is extremely inconvenient for the villagers, many of whom do not have cars. For as long as they can remember, they happily came and went on foot across the river the other way. Instead of walking to school, their children now have to take a bus from Akhshtyr down toward the airport and then up an old road on the other side of the highway, an undertaking that adds about 45 minutes to their trip.
The water situation is another problem.
After the new dump poisoned the villagers’ water, the authorities promised to provide a new source and installed a water pump – a hand-operated one that “looked like it came from the 19th century,” said Jane Buchanan, the associate director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch. The installation received great fanfare, with an opening ceremony of sorts attended by regional dignitaries. The pump worked that day; it stopped working the next.