The refugees of Sochi

In the shadow of the Winter Games in Sochi, families kicked out of their homes to make way for Olympic construction are desperate for some compensation for their lost lives.

Vova’s little eyes gleamed with a mischievous light upon hearing the word “games” and the three-year-old generously offered a visitor the chance to play with his colorful toy cars. He poured heaps of them onto a bed and set about sorting the jumble of tiny vehicles. “Games” was a word that Vova understood when the adults talked in serious conversation, but nobody seemed to be interested in playing with the boy. His grandmother, Lyudmila, was actually sobbing, looking at photographs of the family’s house, which had been demolished by authorities during the recent Olympic construction boom.

The boy’s mother, Natalya, reminisced about her happy but lost life in Sochi—and with the Olympic Games just days away in her hometown, she could think of nothing other than her family’s potentially homeless future. “Not now,” the family’s neighbor, Andrew Martynov—also a victim of forced evictions—told the boy with a weak smile. He was not in the mood for playing with toy cars, either. Sochi’s big moment has arrived and many athletes and visitors are surely giddy with excitement. It’s a joy that cannot be shared by the evicted families whose plots of land became highways or hotels.