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Artek Children Center

Photographer: Sergei Ilnitsky


What once was claimed to be the world’s largest holiday camp – and a prestigious object of the Soviets where children from around the globe united to share joy and freedom – is now a disappointing, run-down place hosting only its own domestic refugees.


It all began in 1925 when the All-Union Young Pioneer camp Artek consisted of tents with a capacity for only 80 children who fell sick with tuberculosis. Due to the area’s mild climate, Artek was able to host children all year round.


The international children center grew fast and by 1969 Artek stretched seven kilometers along the coast of the Black Sea. One hundred and fifty houses accommodating up to 25,000 children, schools and medical centers were erected. For recreation, three swimming pools, a stadium, cafes, museums, various playgrounds and the film studio Artekfilm were built.


In Soviet times, it was considered a privilege to receive a voucher for the trip to Artek. The vouchers served as a keen incentive for school children to do well and the best students were rewarded with trips. In more prosperous days up to 27,000 children annually spent their vacation at the camp. Among the famous political figures who have stayed at the camp for holidays were former Cuban leader Fidel Castro and late Indian Prime Minister Indira Ghandi.


Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, Artek returned to the Ukraine. As fewer and fewer visitors came so did the camp’s condition deteriorate as the months and years passed. Due to a lack of financing, Artek finally closed its doors in 2009. The Ukraine government briefly brought the site back to life to be used as a training center for athletes competing in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and there were hopes that the unique site would be preserved and return to some of its former glory days.


Sadly it now operates as a transit refugee camp for Ukraine residents wanting to receive the Russian citizenship and live in the Crimea region and the halcyon days during Soviet times are just a distant memory.


No joy, no freedom.