SOCHI, Russia – Tall palm trees and a large fountain dominate the inner courtyard of the Neptune Resort, only a short stroll away from the Black Sea. Once built as a comfortable hotel for Sochi-bound tourists, it shows the signs of years of neglect: paint is peeling from the walls, pipes are rusting, and the inner balconies are no longer populated by families getting ready for the beach, but by old household appliances and trash cans.
This Soviet-era paradise has become a last refuge for the weary citizens of the town displaced by the Olympics construction effort.
For the past three years, Andrey Martymov and his wife have been living in one of the resort’s rooms, which is barely large enough to fit their double bed, a cabinet, a couple of chairs and a table. Toothbrushes stand next to coffee cups, and the laundry hangs over the bed to dry.
According to the non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch, the Russian government resettled 2,000 families to clear areas needed for Olympic venues and upgraded infrastructure. Not all of them received fair compensation, the organization said, and some, like Martymov and his wife, are still awaiting some kind of restitution.
“The Olympics made me homeless and no one even cared,” said Martymov, who has not received any compensation. He is stuck in legal limbo unable to produce the documents that officials are demanding from him to prove his property rights. The piece of land he bought for $40,000 was privatized without the proper paperwork in the turbulent years following the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union.
Once Martymov's lot was declared part of the Olympic Park, the lack of a deed paved the way for authorities to confiscate the property and raze his home in 2011.
“For three days we lived in a minivan, and only thanks to friends and journalists, the authorities moved us to the Neptune Resort,” he said. The years since have been filled with court appearances and appeals to the administration.
“It’s just crockery – people are just trying to get rich,” an exasperated Martymov said, as he flipped through the stacks of court papers and property documents piled on his bed.
One floor below, Ludmilla Savelyeva’s family lives crammed into two hotel rooms. The 63-year-old teared up when she showed photos of her former home, where she lived for decades and raised her family.
“It was beautiful. My grandchildren used to play there,” she said.
Working for the state railway as a rail switcher, Savelyeva received an apartment in the railway barracks and was able to build a two-story house in the lot out front. When it all had to make way for the Olympic traffic grid, she was only offered a studio apartment, not large enough to house her family.
Now, she’s stuck at Neptune Resort sharing two rooms with her son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren -- and feeling defeated.
“They didn’t even consider my complaint at court. They are loyal to the administration and to the construction companies,” Savelyeva said. “They’re not even trying to defend our rights, so no one is taking care of our rights.”
She even took her grievance to Russian President Vladimir Putin and hand-delivered a letter to his Moscow office -- after making the two-day rail journey there from Sochi. Savelyeva received a response from Putin’s political party, but no concrete support.
An interview request made to Sochi government officials was not answered.
And more bad news is on the horizon. The Neptune Resort has reportedly been sold to an investor, and residents fear it will be demolished after the Olympics.
“I don’t know where we will move then, we can’t afford to rent an apartment,” Savelyeva said, as her 3-year-old grandson, Vladimir, played on the floor. “Now, we’re just Olympic bums.”