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Boris Novozhilov, the director-general of the once-famed Soviet pioneer camp Artek, has declared a hunger strike and appealed to the Ukrainian government for urgent action to save the vast resort from a complete collapse.

Many staff members believe that Artek has been brought to the brink of bankruptcy intentionally.

Since its inception in June 1925, a vacation at Artek was considered an honorable award for Soviet children. In its heyday the year-round Crimean camp hosted 27,000 children annually.

Its prestige wound down after the breakup of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of the young pioneers' organization in 1990, but it remained a popular vacation site.

The camp has experienced financial difficulties in the past few years. Now, with the adoption by the Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada of the state budget, which did not provide funding for Artek, it seems to have lost all hope for recovery.

The resort's total debt, according to the Ukrainian Audit Chamber, has reached $5 million.

Artek spokeswoman Yelena Mekh places the blame with the Ukrainian government: "The situation that has evolved as a result of failure by the state on its promises and failure to comply with several regulations, has led the [Artek] center to a situation where it faces massive job losses -- 1,100 qualified teachers who constitute the backbone of Artek."

Local Crimean authorities, backed by commercial developers, have been litigating with Artek over a few pieces of premier beach land and essential roads that the local government attempted to snatch in 2006.

Artek officials believe the resort is being forced to declare bankruptcy. "That would be a logical assumption," says Yelena Mekh. "The camp spreads across 208 hectares, which is top-grade Crimean seaside land with a high market value."

-- Russian Service/Pavel Butorin

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