2014 Winter Olympic Games: Construction continues as frustration grows among Sochi residents

Sochi, Russia - One year to go. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

The Russian Black Sea resort city of Sochi is undergoing a major facelift as the country prepares to host its first Olympics since the boycotted 1980 Summer Games.

The Sochi Winter Olympics, which will begin Feb. 7, 2014, have been called the baby of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He's been personally involved in selecting the Games' mascots and reviewing the program for the opening ceremonies.

Already private investors and the state have spent $38 billion on the Games. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak says the total cost for preparing and hosting the Olympics will be over $50 billion, giving Sochi the gold medal for the most expensive Winter Games ever.

Sochi is located about 1,300 kilometres south of Moscow. The city has palm trees and winter temperatures hovering around 14 C in February.

Putin is hoping to use the Olympics as a way to polish his own international image and that of Russia.

But as the CBC's Susan Ormiston recently discovered, not all Russians favour hosting the Games. Many of Sochi's 400,000 citizens are frustrated about living in a muddy, torn-up city.

"Nobody asked if we wanted this Olympic or not," the CBC reported local resident Natalya Kalinovskaya telling a community meeting attended by Sochi Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov.

"Sorry to sound rude, but we've been forced to host it. Like you see yourself, when they build roads first, and then dig them up to put in sewage and gas pipes, when everything is done in a rush, it's bad."

Vladimir Milov, an economist and leader of the Democratic Choice, an opposition party in Moscow, said Putin is trying to paint over any cracks of dissent appearing before the Games.

"Putin wants to create an image of Russia for the international community that there are no problems, only a few people are complaining, we are developing and it is prosperous," Milov said. "It's just a facade."

There have been accusations of corruption in Games' construction and environmental assessments being avoided by contractors. Activists say any Olympic criticism in the Russian press is censored by the Kremlin.

The construction has placed 2,000 Sochi and area homeowners. Some of the families still haven't settled their claims for compensation.

Still the work continues. Officials say 70 per cent of the venues are nearly finished. Over 20,000 new hotel rooms are being built and 20,000 spectators an hour will ride a new 48-kilometre road-rail corridor into the Caucasus mountains above the city.

Dmitry Chernyshenko, the CEO of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Organizing Committee, said the Games will leave a positive legacy.

"It's incredible how in such a short period of time we are changing the environment and infrastructure which was not upgraded since middle of last century," he told the CBC.