A Russian activist planning a trip to Sochi to deliver a report on the environmental impact of the Winter Games construction was jailed for 15 days on Monday. Not for being activist in , however. The actual charge? Swearing in public, which falls under the country's hooliganism laws. Or it could be just another way to silence a very vocal critic of Russia's policies.
Yevgeny Vitishko was already serving a three-year suspended sentence for a 2012 conviction for spray painting a fence. In December, prosecutors convinced a judge to turn that suspended sentence into an actual prison sentence, but because he's appealing the decision, it hasn't yet taken effect. Now, Yitishko will spend at least part of the Winter Games jailed on different charges.
Yitishko has accused the Russian government of simply finding an excuse to jail him during the Olympics to avoid any potential dissent or embarrassment. Four other members of his organization, the Environmental Watch of the North Caucasus, were arrested at the end of 2013. The EWNC reported on Twitter that still other activists were stopped by police today:
Part of Russia's bid for the 2014 Sochi Games was its promise to put on a "zero waste" show. And Vitishko's group has been at the forefront of demonstrating just how badly the Games's organizers have failed to meet that goal. In an interview with Time, EWNC member Suren Gazaryan, a zoologist, explained the impact of construction on Sochi, which is near a UNESCO World Heritage site and a national park:
“The most dangerous and important part of the damage is the biodiversity lost in the area. Parts of the national park have been completely destroyed. This area was the most diverse in terms of plant and animal life in Russia.”
Gazaryan added that his group has documented illegal waste dumping, blocked animal migration routes, and a decreased quality of life for people living in Sochi. Many of the coastal venues for the games were built right on top of the Imeretinskaya Lowland, which had an incredibly diverse population of birds. And then there's the fate of the town of Akhshtyr. Olympic construction cut off the town from a fresh water supply for the past five years, according to Human Rights Watch.
And then there's Monday's news that Sochi officials hired pest control professionals to kill all the stray dogs near Sochi before the games begin. That's thousands of animals, with no plan to dispose of the bodies.