Crimean summer: would you send your kids to the legendary Artek camp?
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the famous Artek summer camp disappeared from public view, and up until now many people, even in Russia itself, weren't aware whether it still existed. In August, we traveled to see the camp ourselves, and here's what we found out.

Ksenia Zubacheva
A group of kids approach as we arrive on the main square of the legendary Soviet summer camp, Artek. Dressed in the same colorful uniform, they greet us with a chant, "Artekovtsi! Our beloved Artek! Never will we forget!" and leave us to enjoy the hot and sunny afternoon in the picturesque southern coast of the Crimean peninsula.

Over the next day and a half our group of journalists will see what became of the former Soviet pioneer camp that once had ten smaller camps (each with its own name: Khrustalny, Rechnoy, Lesnoy, Morskoy, etc.) and which attracted thousands of children from all over the world.

Today, it looks like a five-star hotel, but let me start from the beginning.
In 2014-2017, the Russian government invested 10 billion rubles ($171 million) to revive the legendary camp. Today, its size is larger than Monaco (218 hectares in total, with 102 hectares of parks) and has two swimming pools, six dining halls, 15 sports grounds, three tennis courts, plus a climbing wall and a rope park, among other things. Out of ten camping complexes that comprised the original Artek complex, nine have been renovated and are operational.

A state-funded institution, Artek recently received the special status of an innovation educational platform to test and implement new forms of teaching. There's even a year-round school on the premises that allows children to visit Artek during the academic year without missing classes. Around 2,000-3,500 children attend the school every three weeks, and 300 kids from the neighboring towns of Gurzuf and Yalta attend it on a regular basis.

Just three years ago, however, the camp looked very different. In 2014, when Crimea was reunited with Russia, Artek was in a very poor state. "Everything was worn out and in desperate need of not just repair work, but overall reconstruction (…) Such a large camp is really expensive to maintain and Ukraine couldn't finance it, let alone develop it further," recalls Alexei Kasprzhak, the current director of Artek. Restoring this camp to its former glory became the main goal for the new Russian administration in Crimea.
The Soviet past
Founded in 1925 as a health camp for children who suffered during the years of civil war, Artek gradually transformed into a year-round educational complex that never stopped working, even during World War II. In 1941-1945, the camp was evacuated to the Altai Region in Siberia where 200 children and staff helped local hospitals, and gathered metal for tanks and aircraft production.

After the war, the damaged premises of Artek were rebuilt and the camp continued its work, welcoming not only Soviet children but also those from other countries, including Belgium, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Bulgaria, China, Korea, and Vietnam. The camp saw a number of high-level visitors: Clementine Churchill, the wife of Sir Winston Churchill, India's Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi (not yet prime minister at that time), as well as Vietnamese Prime Minister Ho Chi Minh and first man in space Yuri Gagarin. In 1983, American schoolgirl and peace activist, Samantha Reed Smith, visited the camp at the invitation of Soviet leader Yuri Andropov.
Artek became a truly international place hosting festivals and welcoming representatives of fellow communist regimes. It grew to have its own traditions and values, and became a cult destination for many generations to come. Only the most talented children, who stood out in public life, sports, arts or at school, received the rare and highly-coveted vouchers that the authorities gave out free of charge.
"It was almost impossible to get into, and everyone dreamed about it," Irina, one of the lucky few to holiday in Artek in 1980, told RBTH. "My school got three vouchers and I received one of them for being such an excellent student. I was 12 and this was the first time I ever saw the sea and Crimea."

Together with 33 others in her group, she hiked in nearby Ayu-Dag Mountain (also called Bear Mountain), went swimming and did many other activities, including classes in radio electronics.

"I was too young back then and didn't keep in touch with those in my group," she recalls. "But Artek gave me a sense that I was part of something bigger and increased my self-esteem."

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 the camp came under Ukrainian control and slowly started to lose its grandeur. Campus buildings began to decay, local businessmen started to sell alcohol on Artek's premises, and carwashes appeared on the camp's territory. In 2009, for the first time in history Artek ceased work due to financial problems. Fortunately for the camp, in 2014 it got a new life.
Applying to Artek
Today, a 21-day stay in Artek is a reward for gifted children, just like in Soviet times. Children eight to 17 years old from any part of Russia can apply through an online system that started operating in 2017. The most outstanding candidates are chosen based on merit and achievements – whether in class, arts, sports or public life - and 95 percent of places are awarded free of charge, while the remaining five percent of places can be purchased (80,000 rubles, or $1,369). Everyone, however, must cover their travel expenses from home to Crimea's capital, Simferopol, where a bus takes the kids to Artek free of charge.

Children from abroad can also come – they can apply online and pay for the trip themselves (the same 80,000 rubles, plus travel expenses to and from Simferopol); or get a free voucher by winning one of the international competitions organized by Artek's partners, such as:

● "LIVE CLASSICS" International Competition for Young Readers (organized by the Live Classics Fund)

● The Sputnik Russian National Contest of Young Engineers and Researchers (organized by the Russian State Space Corporation Roscosmos)

● Earth is Our Home Competition (organized by the International Camping Fellowship (ICF)

● Russian language international competition (organized by the Pushkin State Russian Language Institute)

● The Commonwealth Artek International Festival of Children and Youth Creative Work (organized by Artek Fund)

children visited Artek in 2016.

adults work in Artek year-round, but in summer this number becomes larger.
23 billion

rubles will be invested in Artek till 2020.
Children come from all over: the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Austria, Argentina, Bulgaria, UK, Germany, Denmark, Israel, Spain, Italy, Canada, Qatar, Latvia, Lithuania, Mexico, Mongolia, the Netherlands, United Arab Emirates, Poland, Serbia, Slovenia, Slovakia, the U.S., Turkey, Finland, France, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, South Korea, Syria and even children from Ukraine and Georgia!

By the way, Georgian government authorities recently reacted very negatively when they found out that a group of their schoolchildren had gone to Artek. The children and their teachers were invited to Artek after participating in a Russian language competition in Tbilisi, and still decided to go despite the current difficulties in Russian-Georgian relations. It's good to see such examples where children themselves rise above geopolitics in order to attend Artek.
What kids can learn here?
While there are many obligatory activities, such as hiking on nearby Ayu-Dag Mountain, there are also optional activities that a child can choose. He or she might pursue something they are already good at, or try something new, for instance, eco-tourism, archeology, horse riding, sailing, nano technology or space engineering.
The opportunities are numerous and are often taught by professionals from the many well-known institutions and corporations that Artek cooperates with, including:
● Bauman Moscow State Technical University
● Russian State Space Corporation, Roscosmos
● Moscow Aviation Institute
● Russian National Sailing Federation
● Lomonosov Moscow State University's Faculty of Biology
● Russian Geographical Society
● Rossiya Segodnya media agency
● Agency for Strategic Initiatives
● Museum of Cosmonautics
● Russia's Emergency Ministry, and etc.
Language barrier
The majority of foreign children coming to Artek have at least some Russian language proficiency. They either learned Russian at home or have Russian relatives. So coming to Crimea is an opportunity to practice their Russian and explore the historical heritage of the peninsula, as well as make Russian friends.

In some cases, when kids with no Russian language skills come to Artek, the staff does its best to provide a translator. But this is a temporary solution – Russian is the most used language at the camp so those who don't know it well enough will miss out on some part of the conversation.

"We had five Chinese children in our camp, but they didn't try much to communicate with us," said Ivan, 15, from Moscow. "We were eager to make friends with them, but they preferred to focus on their smartphones and didn't mingle much."
A day in Artek

8.00-8.30 wake up, morning bath, gymnastics

8.30-9.15 medical check-up

8.45 - 9.45 breakfast

9.45-12.00 swimming

12.00-12.45 free time, various activities

12.45-13.45 dinner

13.00-14.00 medical check-up

14.00-15.30 daytime break

15.45-16.30 lunch

16.30-18.00 swimming, sea walks, exhibitions, excursions

18.00-19.00 free time, various activities

19.00-20.00 dinner

19.30-20.00 medical check-up

20.00-22.10 all-camp activities, social events, concerts

22.10-22.30 getting ready to sleep and lights out
The mission
Supervised by the Russian Ministry of Education, Artek aims to cultivate a generation of new leaders. Bringing together the most talented children from all over the country, this modern version of the Soviet Pioneer camp strives to give them a sense of what they're capable of and what they can achieve. There is no ideology, unlike Soviet times, but rather an attempt to teach kids how to decide for themselves and learn to live in a multicultural world.

"Artek always was and will remain a reflection of a child's dream, and the main task here is to maintain this reflection," Artek's director explains. "Our goal is to attract as many children as we can and we do not bet on multiculturalism because of the Soviet past. The world of the future will be one without borders, so we're consciously working towards bringing this world closer. Our kids will live in a multicultural, multinational and multi-confessional environment."
What do kids say?
Lais, 16, from Syria: "Me and my sister came to Artek after receiving free vouchers from the Russian government. I can speak Russian because my mother is Russian, but I also know Arabic and English. I learned about veterinary science and I really enjoyed it. Overall, I can say that every day here was busy and full of events, and it's always much fun."

Sultan, 13, from Tashkent, Uzbekistan: "My parents asked me if I wanted to go to Artek and I said yes. At home, I professionally ride horses, so I decided to do it here. I really like it here. I like our group leaders and all sorts of activities that we do. Every day we have a different schedule, so it's always interesting. My friends here are from Sevastopol, Moscow and Smolensk, and we really get along well."

Iovanna, 16, from Serbia: "I came here because my school sent me as part of delegation. We don't have much free time but we swim twice a day and it's very beautiful. There are also kids from countries such as Germany, France, and Pakistan; so there's the opportunity to make international friends. I definitely recommend everyone to visit Artek."

Ivan, 15, from Moscow, Russia: "Every day was full of events. One day we had a concert, another day we did a flashmob with Muz-TV (Russia's music TV channel), then we had a meeting with the Russian Finance Minister…What I loved most was the hike to Ayu-Dag which we transformed into a sort of "hobbit" adventure trying to recreate Lord of the Rings. I tried kickboxing and learned astronomy during my three weeks here. There was too little free time, however. Everyone just wanted to swim and have fun, and at first it was hard without my family, but overall I liked the experience. We went on trips to Sevastopol, Simferopol and saw the southern part of Crimea. Generally, I can't say that this experience changed my way of thinking, but I will continue to keep in touch with some of the friends I made here."
Text by Ksenia Zubacheva
Edited by Olga Vlasova
Images and video credits: Artek International Children's Center, Ksenia Zubacheva, David Manukyan
Design and layout by Ksenia Zubacheva
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