Russian villagers say the Olympics have ruined their town

AKHTYR, Russia – Three days before the opening ceremonies in Sochi, President Barack Obama met with his national security team, which assured him all steps are being taken to protect Americans at the Games.

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Lap cat: Russian President Vladimir Putin visited a Persian leopard on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014.
CBS News
 Russian President Vladimir Putin visited a Persian leopard on Tuesday. As part of the Olympic construction, Putin set up a nature preserve for the endangered species.

The Sochi Games may be good for rare cats, but what about the people who live there?  

The Russians are very proud of what they've built here:  a gleaming Olympic park in what used to be a swamp, a spanking new ski center in what used to be wilderness, and what may be the world's most expensive road and rail link between them.

But here in the village of Akhtyr, half-way between the two venues, they're decidedly lacking in Olympic spirit. 

They say the Games have ruined their lives.

When the new highway through their valley was built, they were not only cut off from it -- they were also cut off from the old road they used to use.

Now, Valya Primyakova told us, what was a 15-minute walk to get the bus to work has become a two-hour, cross-country trek. Military guards block their' way to the rickety footbridge they used to use.

"They cut us off," Primyakova said in Russian. "We're locked in."

Asked if the Olympics have been a good thing for her, Primyakova replied vehemently: "Nyet!"

No, the Olympics have not been good at all for the villagers.

Not good: Heavy construction and traffic have chewed up the road through town and turned it into a dust bowl.

Not good: Digging in the quarry above town has ruined the residents’ wells, so that water has to be brought by truck.

Yet their complaints to local authorities have been ignored.

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Basically, the people of Akhtyr are saying they're mad as hell and they're not going to take it anymore. But it's not like they have a lot of choice.

The villagers' sad story is not Dimitry Chernyshenko's problem. He's Sochi's Olympic czar, and he's more concerned with the Games and his Olympic torch collection -- especially the Sochi torch that works like the famous Russian rifle, which he demonstrated enthusiastically.

 “Look, it works just like a Kalashnikov!” Chernyshenko said.

What's the plight of a few hundred villagers compared to the Olympics?

"For Americans, it will be more like Aspen in the Rocky Mountains and Miami" together in the same place, proclaimed Chernyshenko. "This is the uniqueness of the place."

It's a charm, however, lost on the people of Akhtyr -- the town the Olympics forgot.

  • Mark Phillips

    Mark Phillips returned to the CBS News London bureau as a correspondent in 1993. He has covered many major stories since then, including the war in the Balkans, the death of Princess Diana and the weapons inspection conflicts in Iraq.

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