A leading Russian ecologist, jailed after criticising the Sochi Olympic construction damage to environment, has gone on hunger strike, his organisation said on Monday.
Yevgeny Vitishko was sentenced to three years in a penal colony for painting a protest slogan three years ago on a fence of what he found to be an illegally built mansion for a local governor. A three-year suspended sentence Mr. Vitishko received in 2012 was replaced with a jail term last week after he informed police of his plans to go to Sochi.
The Environmental Watch of the North Caucasus (EWNC), to which Mr. Vitishko belongs, said the activist had been convicted on “framed up charges for ecological and human rights activities.”
Mr. Vilishko, a 40-year-old geologist closely involved with development projects in and around Sochi, has exposed many violations of environmental norms during preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
A Vilishko supporter, who staged a protest picket in Sochi on Monday, was rounded up by police minutes after he unfolded a poster in support of the jailed environmentalist.
Another activist, Suren Gazaryan, who worked with Mr. Vilishko to document the evidence of extensive damage to a national park in Sochi that is on the list of UNESCO heritage sites, fled to Estonia after criminal charges had been filed against him in Russia.
A senior Russian scientist escaped to Ukraine several years ago to avoid arrest in Russia after he went public with his claims that the massive construction in Sochi had been launched without studying possible impact on the region’s pristine geology and ecology.
Dr. Sergei Volkov, a Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Ecology and a former consultant to the Sochi Winter Olympics, warned that “Russia’s economic losses from the factual destruction of the unique nature of world value will exceed the construction costs and questionable profit from this adventurist undertaking.”
In a 2010 report, the UN Environment Programme said that Russia “did not take into account the cumulative ... effects of the various projects on the ecosystems of the Sochi region and its population.”