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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 August 2005, 16:53 GMT 17:53 UK
Artek: 'A country just for kids'
Soviet-era mural
Artek still has plenty of reminders of its Soviet past
A Soviet-era youth camp is 80 years old this summer.

The Artek camp for Young Pioneers - a mass organisation for Soviet children aged 10-15 - was built on the Crimean peninsula a few years after the formation of the USSR itself.

The BBC's Helen Fawkes reports on the camp as it prepares to celebrate the anniversary, in what is now Ukraine.

With a mobile phone hanging around her neck, 14-year-old Anya is singing along with the crowd.

A DJ is playing music to entertain the youngsters before a swimming competition.

I think it's one of the best holiday camps in the whole world because of the sea and the mountains
Tasha Kamenyuk
Team leader

But instead of the latest tunes, all the songs are about Artek.

With lyrics about friendship, exercise and the great outdoors, most of them were written in Soviet times to inspire Young Pioneers.

Now they are sung by a new generation.

"Artek is a beautiful place - it's like a country just for kids. It's still a bit Soviet, but things are changing," says Anya from Kiev.

Communist values

Located in what is now part of Ukraine, Artek is the size of a small town which slopes down to an eight-kilometre (five-mile) stretch of the Black Sea coast.

Artek was always considered the most prestigious camp for Young Pioneers.

More than a million children have had holidays here.

The USSR established around 40,000 youth camps to spread Communist Party values.

But now youngsters come to Artek just to have fun.

Its 80th anniversary will be marked with a gala concert on 18 August.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko as well as the leaders of Poland and Georgia are due to attend the event.

These presidents from former Soviet bloc countries are all proudly pro-western.

But they will be celebrating what was a potent symbol of the Soviet system.

Difficult future

At a spot overlooking the dramatic coastline, Tasha Kamenyuk - one of the team leaders - is teaching a group of children traditional songs about the Black Sea.

Young pioneers at Artek a few years after it opened [photo - Artek archive]
It has always been considered an elite camp [photo: Artek archive]
"I think it's one of the best holiday camps in the whole world because of the sea and the mountains," says Tasha.

From here you can see the 200 hectares of parkland that makes up Artek.

Hidden amongst the trees are sports stadiums, museums and a school.

Dotted along the beach you can see brand new brightly-coloured dormitories where the youngsters sleep.

Artek is still popular - at any one time up to 3,000 children stay here.

But it is facing a difficult future.

Ukrainian police are investigating allegations of corruption.

No one has been charged, but a new director, Olga Guzar, has been appointed.

"Right now Artek is unfortunately a problematic place, because we have lots of debts to pay. What's positive is the fact that the camp has been rebuilt and has a new face today," says Ms Guzar.

Neck scarves

With baggy cargo pants and baseball caps, the uniforms are a lot more relaxed.

Artek children
Activities seem more relaxed now than in Soviet times
And so is the exercise regime.

"We do a lot of activities right up until bedtime," explains Bianca, a 13-year-old who lives in Moscow.

"We have exercise before breakfast, but you aren't forced to do it. After lunch we have a time to have a rest and we always go to the beach twice a day," she says.

Footage from Artek's film archive, shot just after the opening in 1925, shows regimented groups of children exercising outdoors.

The young pioneers all wearing their distinctive red neck scarves perform their workout in perfect rows.

Back then Artek was only open to the most talented or well-connected youngsters.

'Traditional values'

These days most people pay for the privilege.

Artek buildings
Artek has a scenic location on the Crimean coast
Elena Zagorevskaya is in charge of about 300 youngsters.

She was chosen to represent her republic - neighbouring Moldova - at Artek 30 years ago and has worked here ever since.

"Since the collapse of the USSR, the Young Pioneer organisation no longer exists, and so there are no symbols left, like the red neck scarves," says Elena.

"But we still have the traditional values here that have always been at Artek."


SEE ALSO:
In pictures: Artek youth camp
16 Aug 05 |  In Pictures


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