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Ukraine: Artek Celebrates Its 80th Anniversary

Prague, 17 August 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Artek, the former elite camp for Young Pioneers -- the Soviet-era Communist Party youth group -- is preparing to celebrate its 80th anniversary. While many other former Soviet institutions have been consigned to the history books, Artek, which now belongs to Ukraine, has reinvented itself as an "International Children's Center" and continues to flourish.

The "Pioneer's Fairy Tale" is just one of many songs that celebrated the Artek children's camp during the Soviet era:

"You will remember it for a long time and can hardly forget
That we spent time in a Pioneer's fairy tale.
Such things occur in our 20th century
And the fairy tale's name is 'Artek.'
It echoes in the ears of the sea surf
'Artek!' 'Artek!
We dream about it often
'Artek!' 'Artek!' the trumpeter trumpets at the start of the day:
'Artek!' 'Artek!'
You and I became friends at 'Artek!'

First established in 1925, on a picturesque bay in the Crimea where prerevolutionary luminaries such as Anton Chekhov and even Tsar Nicholas II once took the waters, Artek became synonymous with the Soviet effort to create a new society.

At Artek, the best students and children of the Party elite from all across the Soviet Union -- and after World War II, the Eastern Bloc -- spent their summer vacations swimming, singing songs, and learning to be loyal communists.

Those days are gone. But Artek continues. More than 3,000 children -- mostly from Ukraine and Russia -- are currently spending their summer at Artek, which has transformed itself into a well-run "normal" summer camp.

Parents spend roughly $700 to send their children for a three-week stay at Artek. The camp says it also offers financial aid for talented children whose families cannot afford the full fee.
At Artek, the best students and children of the Party elite from all across the Soviet Union -- and after World War II, the Eastern Bloc -- spent their summer vacations swimming, singing songs, and learning to be loyal communists.

"This camp is definitely popular with kids today -- Russian kids, Ukrainian kids, kids from the CIS," said Volodya Pritula, RFE/RL's correspondent in Crimea. "As Artek's directors emphasize themselves, the camp has little in common with the ideology that reigned at Artek in Soviet times. They say that today, it's truly a 'country of childhood.' There are many activities for the children, good food, and many famous guests still come for visits. The program is similar to boy and girl scout camps in the West."

On 18 August, Artek will cap a summer-long celebration of its 80th anniversary in grand style.

"Tomorrow the final festivities will take place," Pritula said. "And many VIP guests have been invited to attend, according to Artek's press service. Celebrations have been taking place at Artek throughout the summer. Tomorrow, several presidents are expected to come, including Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, and Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus."

The politicians will reportedly also be joined by some leading lights of the sport and show-business worlds.

"It's expected that the festivities will be attended by the best [European] footballer of last year, Andrei Shevchenko, Ukrainian pop star Ruslana and many Russian and Ukrainian pop stars, as well as pop stars from Latvia and Moldova as well as other performers who are popular with Ukrainian teenagers -- and not only Ukrainian teenagers," Pritula said.

They may be upstaged by one very special guest.

"The famous Hollywood star of Ukrainian origin, Milla Jovovich, is also coming," Pritula said. "People know her well and like her very much here. At 14:00 today, her plane is due to land at the Simferopol airport and she will participate in the festivities. Earlier, Artek's press service distributed a press release quoting a letter from Milla Jovovich, in which she said she very much wants to see Ukraine, which she left in 1980. She said she had followed the Orange Revolution and was very interested in seeing how her homeland looks today."

An irony not lost on anyone is that Russian President Vladimir Putin -- not a big fan of the Orange Revolution -- will probably not be on hand for the Artek celebrations.

(RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service contributed to this report.)

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