A cemetery untouched by Sochi's Olympic transformation
Published Thursday, February 13, 2014 8:42PM EST
Last Updated Thursday, February 13, 2014 10:59PM EST
On the edge of the Olympic Park, you have a clear view of one of the biggest Sochi contrasts: palm trees in the foreground, snow-covered mountains in the background.
It is also hard not to notice the stark difference between the new, opulent, Orthodox Church built to promote the Games, and a couple of kilometers away, the foundation of what is going to be an Old Believer’s Church -- right now, it is covered with a tarp.
The Old Believers are considered a sect; purist and conservative, they split from the mainstream Russian Orthodox Church in the 17th century. Facing persecution, they left Russia and in the early 1900s, eventually they returned and some resettled in a remote part of Sochi.
By the way, there are pockets of communities of Old Believers all over the world, including Canada and even Alaska.
Never has there been an Olympics built totally from unused land. When authorities designed the Olympic Park, there were neighborhoods they were going to bulldoze and homes of Old Believers they were going to relocate, but there was one thing they could not touch: their graveyard. I’ve walked past it three times without noticing a thing. Frankly, at a glance, you could mistake it for a lot of Christmas trees.
By law, they have to wait 50 years before a cemetery can be destroyed, and even then, families’ permissions are required. Not the case here.
In their new neighborhood of Nekrasovka, we asked Father Georgiy Efimove what his thoughts are. He says he is thankful the cemetery is still there, knowing full well this wasn’t so much a question of goodwill by authorities, but of fear. Fear of blowback and criticism.
Next door is 81-year-old Yevdokia Zhukova, the oldest member of the community. She has a spring in her step as she waters her carrots, cucumbers, and buffet of other plants in the backyard. Both her parents are buried in that cemetery, and she will likely be as well.
She and other family and friends are only allowed to visit the cemetery from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The route is still very new, and so she gets lost. And she asks: “What if the ghosts of our ancestors get lost trying to find us?”