Famed Soviet chil­dren’s camp in Crimea reopens


It was once the sum­mer des­ti­na­tion for the bright­est and best of Soviet chil­dren but it slipped into dis­use and de­cay af­ter the So­cial­ist em­pire crum­bled.

Now, how­ever, show­piece hol­i­day camp Artek in Crimea has re­opened un­der Rus­sian con­trol af­ter Moscow grabbed the Black Sea penin­sula from Ukraine — and it is once again aim­ing to shape a new gen­er­a­tion.

In an idyl­lic set­ting of cy­press trees, mag­no­lias and seven kilo­me­ters (about four miles) of pebble beaches, Artek wel­comed only the cream of the Com­mu­nist youth or­ga­ni­za­tions, the Young Pi­o­neers and the Kom­so­mol, aged from 10 to around 17.

Af­ter the end of the Soviet Union, the camp was taken over by Ukraine’s in­de­pen­dent au­thor­i­ties but grad­u­ally fell into dis­re­pair.

But that all changed af­ter the Krem­lin seized the re­gion from Kiev last year — and now 20,000 young Rus­sians are set to hol­i­day here this sum­mer.

First opened in 1925 on Lenin’s sug­ges­tion, the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment is now pump­ing some US$410 mil­lion (365 mil­lion rubles) to re­fur­bish the camp be­tween now and 2020.

The aim is to turn it into a “na­tional sym­bol of Rus­sia — like the ballet or the Her­mitage mu­seum” in Saint Peters­burg, the new 35-yearold direc­tor, Alexei Kasprzhak, told AFP.

For 95 per­cent of those who stay at the camp, it is free. They win the trip as a re­ward for tak­ing top places in na­tional com­pe­ti­tions in school sub­jects from math to Rus­sian lit­er­a­ture, or for ex­celling in sports or dance. The first be­gan ar­riv­ing in April.

“Artek has be­come Rus­sian again. That makes me so happy!” said one of the first to stay there, 14 year-old Mikhail, ad­just­ing his sailor’s hat.

“Deep down, I’m a Young Pi­o­neer too, like my par­ents were, even if I don’t wear a red ker­chief,” said Mikhail, who won first prize in math at a com­pe­ti­tion in UlanUde in Bury­a­tia, a largely Bud­dhist Siberian re­gion.

An­other camp mem­ber, 12-yearold Rita Isayeva, had cho­sen to wear the uni­form of the Young Pi­o­neers, a cap and red ker­chief, say­ing she pre­ferred this.

Rita from the far north­ern town of Apatity won first prize in five sub­jects in her com­pe­ti­tion. She said she had yet to choose a fu­ture ca­reer — torn be­tween as­tronomer or cheese taster.

Chil­dren com­ing from abroad if they want to join the camp must shell out the full amount, how­ever: around 65,000 rubles (US$1,233) for three weeks.

Ide­o­log­i­cally Charged Project

Back when it was founded, the camp was ini­tially for chil­dren suf­fer­ing from tu­ber­cu­lo­sis, but then grew into an ide­o­log­i­cally charged project to cul­ti­vate a new kind of Soviet cit­i­zen.

Its im­pres­sive fa­cil­i­ties and the chance to meet the chil­dren of in­ter­na­tional Soviet sym­pa­thiz­ers made it a cult des­ti­na­tion for gen­er­a­tions.

Books, films and hit songs of the pe­riod talked about “friend­ship born at Artek.” Even to­day, streets, cine­mas and ships bear the camp’s name.

At the en­trance now, a faded sign still an­nounces that the 230-hectare site — larger than Monaco — is part of a Ukrainian na­tional park. Along with the Crimea re­gion it­self and ev­ery­thing on it, Ukraine in­sists the camp has been stolen by Rus­sia.

On the same plac­ard, how­ever, the Ukrainian na­tional em­blem has been painted over with the Rus­sian tri­color.

Af­ter the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Artek be­came part of in­de­pen­dent Ukraine. The camp lost its po­lit­i­cal fo­cus and be­came a fairly nor­mal sum­mer camp host­ing Ukrainian chil­dren on a com­mer­cial ba­sis. But it failed to thrive and in 2009 was an­nounced to be on the brink of bank­ruptcy.

New Doc­trine

Now, how­ever, the campers are back — and so is some of the old Com­mu­nist pi­o­neer spirit.

For a few days of their stay, the vis­i­tors swap their com­fort­able dorms and mo­bile phones for tents and lessons on learn­ing how to light camp­fires and play the bu­gle, a Young Pi­o­neer tra­di­tion.

“The chil­dren have to re­learn how to live with dif­fer­ent peo­ple, to re­con­nect with the spirit of in­ter­na­tion­al­ism and col­lec­tivism of that era,” said camp direc­tor Kasprzhak

How­ever “this is ab­so­lutely not about go­ing back to the past,” he in­sisted.

A new doc­trine for Artek, whose full name is the In­ter­na­tional Cen­tre for Free Ed­u­ca­tion of Chil­dren, grew out of a public dis­cus­sion in Rus­sia last sum­mer.

In place of the Soviet-era in­sis­tence on the pre­em­i­nence of the state and the in­dis­putable power of the Party is a new idea “to form peo­ple who can take re­spon­si­bil­ity for them­selves,” said Kasprzhak.

“A child gets to stay at Artek on his own merit and he must un­der­stand that he him­self is re­spon­si­ble for his own fate, and not the state, as was the case in the Soviet era,” said Kasprzhak.


Teenagers have lunch at the Artek in­ter­na­tional chil­dren cen­ter in Gurzuf, some 15 kilo­me­ters out­side Yalta, on May 31.

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