Voices from Russia

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Golden Time for Silver Age Volunteers at the Olympic Games

00 Sochi Olympics. 18.02.14

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If you’re in Sochi for the Winter Olympics this month, you might notice elderly men and women telling foreign visitors where to see the sights in town, manning the areas where big screens show the Game’s events, or even filling empty seats at Olympic events if needed. They’re all part of Leonid Lyubimov’s Silver Age volunteers, which started up three years ago, and now has more than 500 members. The group, with members aged between 46 and 85, organises from 35 to 40 events a month, from helping to clear waterways of trash to cleaning local landmarks and fixing up badly planted trees. Lyubimov, an energetic, grey-haired 71-year-old, said in an interview in the small office where he sat with his two deputies in downtown Sochi, “People usually feel that the elderly need to be helped, but we decided to do the reverse. We help ourselves, organise ourselves”.

Now retired, Lyubimov spent most of his professional life at a scientific institute in Novosibirsk, in Siberia, but he always dreamed of moving somewhere warm. He had maps of Crimea on his wall, almost moved to Cyprus, but eventually plumped for Sochi. He said that when Sochi became the venue for the Winter Olympics it provided a push to start the volunteer movement, “It’s interesting for us to live in a city where the Olympic Games will take place”. He said that the Silver Age volunteers all remembered the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics, adding, “To live through that was great, but to see another such event is super”.

He’s particularly proud that the group came up from the grassroots and not by government command, although Silver Age gets support from the city and local governments. With a structure that harks back to the Soviet Vladimir Lenin all-Union Pioneer Organisation, Lyubimov said that his group could drum up a few dozen volunteers in less than an hour. Many of them had English lessons in preparation for the Games “so at least we can explain how to get to the toilet”, as well as lessons in dealing with the public and with foreigners… skills not well honed in Soviet times.

Lyubimov said, “We love the city; although it’s no secret that many people in Sochi say, ‘Why do we need the Olympic Games?’ But we’ve built a new city”. Seventy of the volunteers shall take part as actors in a Chekhov-inspired part of the Paralympics opening ceremony slated for March. One member, a retired doctor, wrote an anthem for the group and the Silver Age has its own flag too. Lyubimov sees the group as for not only the Games, saying, “The Olympics will end, but we’ll continue to work. Our main aim is to wake up those who have become indifferent”.

7 February 2014

Kevin O’Flynn

RIA-Novosti

http://en.ria.ru/analysis/20140207/187269738/Golden-Time-for-Silver-Age-Volunteers-at-the-Olympic-Games.html

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