Russia has gone through great pains to present the Olympic Games in Sochi as an environmentally responsible event. Yet the environmental damage from Olympic construction has been hard to ignore. And now Russia is jailing environmentalists who are speaking out against the Games’ heavy carbon footprint. Over the past week Russian police have detained two ecologists for allegedly violating the public order, and a third has said she intends to leave Sochi before she’s thrown in jail too.
Yevgeny Vitishko is a member of a group called Environmental Watch North Caucasus who authored a report on the environmental damage caused by Olympic construction. He was arrested last week and charged with swearing in public, and he was sentenced to 15 days in jail, disrupting the environmental group’s plans to publish the report before the opening ceremony on Friday. Since then the publication has been delayed indefinitely, and Amnesty International has called Vitishko a prisoner of conscience.
Another environmental activist, Igor Kharchenko, was detained Wednesday and charged with disobeying a police officer on a street near the route of the Olympic torch relay and sentenced to five days in jail. And a third activist, Yulia Naberezhnaya, an Echo Watch board member, said she intends to leave Sochi during the Olympics to avoid landing in jail herself. She says an employee of the Federal Security Service, the successor to the KGB, called her and asked whether she was going to stage a protest during the Olympics.
Despite the government’s claims, the Sochi Olympics have been anything but green. Ski jumps and courses were built on about 6,000 acres of land taken from Sochi National Park. Road and rail construction along the Mzymta River endangered a rare Black Sea salmon species. And ice rinks, roads and hotels were constructed on reclaimed marshland that had been a habitat for migrating birds. Plus, dozens of impromptu construction dump sites now litter the hillsides in and around Sochi.