Sochi 2014 Opens as Stray Dogs, Empty Malls Greet Spectators

Tourists at the most expensive Winter Olympics ever may find that $45 billion doesn’t buy completed hotels or shops at the Russian Games.

The events in the Black Sea resort of Sochi start tonight with the opening ceremony. Visitors to the Mountain Cluster hub for sports including alpine skiing could find stray dogs lazing on the sidewalk and construction work unfinished.

“I came just yesterday and I don’t know when the whole place opens,” Bogdan Romanov, 23, who traveled from Ukraine to work in the local Gorky Gorod Mall’s Lucky Strike bowling alley, said in an interview today. “Most shops up here are closed and I don’t know why.”

Of the mall’s four stories, only one floor is fully operational. The remaining three have stores that are still being fitted with stock and furnishings, while workmen carrying scaffolding jostle with cleaners. Some shops are unable to process credit-card payments, while only two of the eight lanes in the bowling alley are working.

Russian President Vladimir Putin put aside more than $45 billion to host the most expensive Winter Olympics, rather than spending on schools, hospitals and infrastructure that investors say is needed to revive growth. Government forecasts show that the economy, which expanded at an average rate of 7 percent in the first eight years of Putin’s rule, will grow at a third of that pace between now and 2030.

Four Years

On the mall’s fourth floor, where an arcade of amusements can be found in an area known as Fun City, Maria Nikonova shrugs her shoulders at the state of facility.

“It’s not ready,” the 28-year-old Sochi native, who works in the mall, said in an interview today. “I don’t know why. They’ve had four years.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin is using the games, the most expensive in history, to transform a Soviet-era summer resort on the Black Sea into a year-round destination. This week’s arrival of athletes and journalists left organizers scrambling to finish facilities as visitors complained about incomplete hotels, half-built sidewalks and the city’s cull of stray dogs.

In Gorki Plaza, five minutes walk from the mall, one construction worker was sawing wood at midnight to try to complete the construction of a bar. It’s by the gondola to the venues for mountain sports including downhill skiing, where Mary-Sue Shannon of Vale, Colorado, saw a pack of stray dogs.

Stray Dogs

“Just before we got to the ski area we saw about six of them,” Shannon, a guest of the U.S. ski team, said in an interview in the gondola. “We don’t think that’s good.”

Sochi has been criticized after hiring a pest control company to remove stray dogs from the streets, sometimes killing the animals.

Volnoe Delo Oleg Deripaska Foundation, one of Russia’s largest private charity funds, opened the first dog shelter in Sochi, a site called PovoDog.

The foundation spent $15,000 to create the shelter. Annual operating costs are estimated at $56,000. PovoDog became the first shelter for dogs in need in Sochi. Now there are over 100 stray dogs who have been brought to shelter by volunteers. Homeless and abandoned dogs have been given food and medical treatment.

“There is no water and electricity now, we have to bring water in containers and use temporary electrical generators,” Tamara Rumyantseva, the head of Volnoe Delo Foundation, said in a statement. “But we hope to move to the new place soon, with more comfortable conditions for animals.”

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