As the Olympics heat up, an interesting trend is emerging on social media by the name of Sochi Problems, a Twitter handle that reposts tweets from disgruntled journalists staying in Sochi. Among the tweets are photos of toilets side-by-side (no barrier between them), pictures of missing furniture, odd mistranslations and T-shirts capitalizing on the infamous missing Olympic ring, a mishap from the Opening Ceremony last Friday.
While these cases are admittedly funny and seemingly inexplicable, several journalists in Sochi are taking it too far. While our journalists get to come home after the closing ceremony on Feb. 23, several of their tweets have highlighted, and have even made fun of, serious issues that Russian citizens have to deal with every single day.
While I don’t know how rampant Russia’s double-toilet problem is, I do know that their water situation is abominable, so the Americans who have tweeted about it are being obtuse and insensitive. “Enjoy your peach juice, it comes directly from the tap,” Sochi Problems tweeted on Feb. 4. “Oh wait, that’s water … #SochiProblems.” The tweet includes a photo of two glasses of tap water that are an opaque orange-yellow color, a refreshing drink if you’re aiming for intestinal damage.
I don’t see how anyone can find this funny. The undrinkable – some would say toxic – water in their hotels isn’t just a problem in Sochi, but in all of Russia, as even President Vladimir Putin himself has said his tap water is undrinkable. Out of the 143 million Russians who have to encounter poisonous water daily, over 18 million of those are the poorest of Russians who can’t afford to buy potable water and end up boiling it, putting themselves at serious risk for diseases daily.
With such dismal health standards, I’m appalled by the lack of sympathy – and abundance of ridicule – coming from Americans. Why does Russia become the butt of a joke when things don’t go smoothly? Africa has problems with their drinking water and we try to help them. Russia has problems with their drinking water and we create a Twitter handle to make fun of them.
Moreover, everyone should remember Jan. 9, 2014, the day that Freedom Industries admitted to accidentally poisoning a huge water supply in West Virginia, a supply that affects 300,000 people.
For almost two weeks, those 300,000 people couldn’t drink their tap water, couldn’t shower in it, or rinse their vegetables in it; all they could do was flush it. Those 300,000 people scrambled miserably for bottled water while the rest of the country watched on in horror. Even now, a month later, West Virginia’s state government is hesitant to call their drinking water safe. I haven’t seen any Twitter handles dedicated to the problems that hundreds of thousands of West Virginians encountered.
The water is only the beginning of problems for millions of Russians. Because of huge construction setbacks and vague allegations of government corruption, there have been some huge discrepancies with what the actual budget was, with most reputable news sources settling on $51 billion.
But that massive budget – $9 billion more than the 2008 Beijing Olympics – doesn’t explain how the Russian government was seemingly unable to pay 70,000 of the workers who helped construct the Olympic Village and the hotels for the media. Some of these workers actually had to live in the hotels they were building. Where do they go when the buildings are finished?
While Americans and visitors from the rest of the world complain and poke fun at the living conditions in Sochi, many of them are unknowingly living like millions of Russians do. As global leaders during the Olympic Games, we have the responsibility – nay, the privilege – to take a look at the standard of living all over the world and actually do something to improve it.