• Michael Laxer

Artek: The vast Soviet internationalist complex of children's camps

Updated: Aug 17

An in-depth look at the Soviet Artek Pioneer youth camp, a sprawling internationalist complex of ten sub-camps and various facilities that hosted over 20,000 children yearly from across the USSR and around the world.


Founded on June 16, 1925 the Artek Pioneer youth camp was a sprawling internationalist complex of ten sub-camps and various facilities that hosted over 20,000 children yearly from across the USSR and around the world. It was located near Yalta on the Black Sea in the Crimea in what was, in the 70s and 80s, the Ukrainian SSR.


Here we take a look at this remarkable complex using two different Soviet sources.


The first is a set of panoramic postcards from 1985 with extensive notes and folder text telling of the camps, their day-to-day activities and their attempts to build a belief in internationalism, peace and socialism while teaching different skills and providing educational resources.


The second is an article from a June 1971 issue of Sputnik Magazine that gives an overview of the camps.


You learn of all the different activities, the Neptune Festival, the various exhibitions, how the children could learn to build gliders or engage in scientific pursuits, the fishing and swimming, campfires and fun.


"Artek is often referred to as a Young Pioneers' Republic. Each and every boy and girl who comes here is sure to find an occupation to his or her liking. Sports enthusiasts have numerous sports grounds, and stadium seating 10,000 at their disposal. Children wishing to learn to make toys can have a go at the Artek toy factory. Those interested in outer space studies can visit the Space Exhibition. Ardent readers enjoy access to tens of thousands of books in the Artek library...


Promoting peace and friendship is among Artek's primary goals. The first group of foreign children came here back in 1926. Since that time, the camp has taught lessons in internationalism to many generations of Artek children. Every year, children from the five continents meet at the camp on the sunny coast of the Crimea. When they leave Artek, they make a pledge to cherish the friendship that has blossomed there.


Artek has always had friends and supporters. Among them were Nadezhda Krupskaya and the famous children's writer Arkady Gaidar. The children of Artek have had the luck to meet Semyon Budyonny, the legendary hero of the Civil War, to hear the fiery speeches of the outstanding German Communist Klara Zetkin, to see the unforgettable smile of Yuri Gagarin, the Earth's first envoy to the stars, and to listen to the songs of the American peace champion Paul Robeson."


Artek postcard folder and notes, 1985:


Text:


Artek, the capital of vast and beautiful Young Pioneers' Land, stretches along the Black Sea coast of the Crimea from Mount Ayu-Dag (Bear) to the town of Gurzuf. In the early morning haze, Artek's snow-white buildings, viewed from a tall cliff, look like shapely sailing ships. They lie eternally at anchor in the warm, cosy harbour, their beauty gladdening the hearts of thousands of boys and girls, who come here from different parts of the country and from all over the world.


As the early sunrays gently touch the silvery surface of the sea, the golden sounds of bugles echo, and the silence suddenly explodes with thousands of young, happy voices. Late in the evening in each of the ten Young Pioneer camps the traditional phrase is heard: "As Night descends on the sea, it's time for Artek to go to sleep. Good night, my Homeland, sleep well until the morning comes!" The lights of Artek fade, the flags are lowered, and children have fascinating dreams. The whole of the camp goes to sleep, to awake at the call of the bugle, to a new beautiful day. The first morning to which the young inhabitants of Artek awoke was that of June 16, 1925. There were only eighty of them then. The children were accommodated in tarpaulin tents lit by kerosene lamps in the evening. You can see how things were then from the yellowed photographs in the Artek Museum, a modest little cottage, where Zinovy Solovyov, Lenin's comrade-in-arms and the founder of the Young Pioneer Camp, once lived. Walking at the foot of Mount Ayu-Dag, talking to children, he kept thinking about ways of setting up a well-equipped Pioneer camp where children could not only have fun, build up their health and make friends, but also learn to live according to the laws of a new society.


Today, Artek consists of ten camps. Over the last sixty years more than 70,000 children have had an opportunity to enjoy a holiday at Artek.


Artek's banner has been decorated with the Order of the Red Banner of Labour and the Order of Friendship Among Peoples. Passes to Artek are granted to the most active Young Pioneers. It is the seat of regular All-Union Young Pioneer rallies and meetings of the Timurovets (mem-bers of the youth organization for helping the elderly and the disabled), Red Pathfinders, Young Frontier-Guards, Octobrian (schoolchildren aged 7-10 preparing to enter the Young Pioneer Organization) leaders, Young Correspondents, and winners of school contests.


Artek is often referred to as a Young Pioneers' Republic. Each and every boy and girl who comes here is sure to find an occupation to his or her liking. Sports enthusiasts have numerous sports grounds, and stadium seating 10,000 at their disposal. Children wishing to learn to make toys can have a go at the Artek toy factory. Those interested in outer space studies can visit the Space Exhibition. Ardent readers enjoy access to tens of thousands of books in the Artek library.


The Artek bugles sound throughout the year: even in winter the camp is full of children. Artek has a school of its own, one everybody would like to attend! No homework and most of the lessons in the open air!


Children like Artek. They take care of it and do everything they can to make it more attractive. Artek's inhabitants are not lazy either for they are always willing to give a helping hand on the neighbouring state and collective farms. Many other traditions have been started in different years and passed down from one shift to another: such as holding ceremonial meetings and parades by the Lenin Monument, marking the Day of Peace and Solidarity, organizing Friendship Camp-fires, and laying Wreaths of Glory at the Unknown Seaman's Memorial. A long-standing tradition is for the older boys and girls to take care of the "molecules" as the younger Pioneers at the camp are jokingly called. "An interesting assignment for each Pioneer squad, a job for each and every Pioneer!"—this is Artek's motto. According to tradition, no guest is al-lowed to leave the camp without a bunch of flowers and a souvenir. When a camp shift is over, each of its members gets a piece of charcoal from a camp-fire as a keepsake and a token of the pledge to carry on Artek's traditions in their school Pioneer squads all over the country.


Promoting peace and friendship is among Artek's primary goals. The first group of foreign children came here back in 1926. Since that time, the camp has taught lessons in internationalism to many generations of Artek children. Every year, children from the five continents meet at the camp on the sunny coast of the Crimea. When they leave Artek, they make a pledge to cherish the friendship that has blossomed there.


Artek has always had friends and supporters. Among them were Nadezhda Krupskaya and the famous children's writer Arkady Gaidar. The children of Artek have had the luck to meet Semyon Budyonny, the legendary hero of the Civil War, to hear the fiery speeches of the outstanding German Communist Klara Zetkin, to see the unforgettable smile of Yuri Gagarin, the Earth's first envoy to the stars, and to listen to the songs of the American peace champion Paul Robeson.


Famous writers, composers, scientists, prominent figures in the international Communist movement, shock workers and Olympic champions tell Artek's children about themselves, about service to the cause of peace, and loyalty to their Motherland and people.


When the children go home, the memories of Artek go with them. The many letters the Pioneer Republic receives from them, always bear the same message: "I love you, Artek!"


Images with text:


Traditionally, the Young Pioneers' day starts with a camp lineup and the hoisting of the flag in each of the Artek camps. Each shift begins with a ceremonial parade before the Camp's Banner, the state flag of the USSR.



As the early sunrays light up the top of Mount Ayudag, the camp awakens to the soft rustle of the wind in the pines and cypresses, the murmur of the waves and the cheerful call of the bugle. When the morning exercises start. the whole of Artek becomes a gigantic stadium.


Artek means sunshine, the sea and a few kilometers of beaches. When leaving the camp, each boy and girl is sure to take home as a souvenir a few pretty pebbles worn smooth by the gentle waves of the warm sea.


Each of the camps has a charm of its own. And yet, Morskoy (Seaside) Camp is everybody's favourite. It is here that Artek's history began in 1925, and this gradually developed into Greater Artek.



The Day of Peace, Friendship and Solidarity is among Artek's most important festivities. The young Leninists lay flowers at the monument to the Great Leader.


On Hero's Commemoration Day, Young Pioneers stand on guard by the Unknown Seaman's Memorial unveiled in Artek in 1962 during the Second All-Union Young Pioneer Rally.



Boys and girls look forward to the Neptune Day. The young actors and the audience enjoy celebrating it equally.


(See more about Neptune Day below.)



Among the duties of the children at Artek is serving meals and clearing away in the canteens, cleaning up the territory, taking care of the trees and flowers in the parks, and keeping the beaches clean and in order.


The National Communist Subbotnik (A Saturday when voluntary unpaid work is done collectively) is Artek's greatest working holiday. On that April day the children at Artek, just like other people all over the country, contribute to the nation-wide collective effort.



Artek's children enjoy going on hikes to Mount Ayu-Dag. The hikers have an opportunity to test their endurance and participate in all kinds of open-air activities. The route is specially chosen so that they can see some of the most beautiful sights in the Crimea. The children look forward to singing around the bonfire in the evening.



Attending Artek study groups, armature societies and clubs often marks the first step towards realizing a childhood dream.


There are 23 study groups, societies and clubs. The toy factory is everybody's favourite. The children at Artek give the toys they make to guests of honour and members of children's delegations. They also send them as gifts to children in Angola, Palestine, Afghanistan and Nicaragua.



Artek is a veritable Land of Sports. While here, everyone is bound to go in for some sport or another. Boys and girls compete to get a Ready for Labour and Defence Badge. They play volleyball and basketball. The finals of the National Games, involving promising young athletes, are usually held at Artek. The country's best teams never fail to participate in them. The winners are awarded prizes and medals.



When at Artek you can see the Exhibition of Model Ships, launch a glider you have made with your own hands, and visit the Space Exhibition, which was set up with the participation of Yuri Gagarin, the pioneer of space flight.



The classes at Artek's school start on September 1. The school has large classrooms and laboratories and numerous visual aids. Textbooks are available in the language of all the constituent republics of the USSR.


Among the things the children take home from Artek with them is the traditional herbarium, a collection of minerals and photographs of beauty spots in Artek and the rest of the Crimea.


Each delegation of foreign children has its own National Day. It is a festival when children perform their national dances and songs and tell their friends about democratic children's organizations.


Moreover, during the International Shift the children at Artek hold Meetings of Friendship and Solidarity, exchange addresses, gifts, stamps and badges.



Artek is the venue of All-Union Young Pioneer Rallies. The Rallies are addressed by peace champions, writers, poets and composers.


Among the contests held during the International Shift there are the political song, poster and pavement drawing competitions.



The World Children's Monument in Morskoy Camp is a symbol of friendship and solidarity among children of the five continents.


On the traditional Peace Day a snow-white motor ship leaves the Artek moorings for neutral waters. It carries representatives of the ten Artek camps and the "bottle mail". bottles containing messages of peace.



Greater Artek's look like a fleet of snow-white ships. Shifts replace one another, and the members of each shift bequeath their motto to their successors: "Be like us, love Artek, take good care of it and make it more beautiful"


Sputnik 1971:


Article by Gennady Sibirtsev



Neptune, Mermaids and Pirates Where would you see a live King Neptune, his young daughters the mermaids, and a gang of pirates with curved sabres in their hands and flintlocks in their belts, growling out a wild song about "The Black Roger"? In a children's theatre? But this was not a theatre with an artificial sun and blue sea painted on canvas.


A real, hot southern sun shone in the sky and, almost rippling along on the sea, coming towards the shore was — no, not a caravel in full sail — just a ship's boat.


But aboard it, dancing and brandishing daggers and sabres, was a crowd of pirates. With them they had captives, bound with thick ship's cable — mermaids with long, flowing green hair. Having landed, the pirates, like true freebooters returning with a rich prize, set about feasting.

But their revels did not go on for long. Neptune arose from the briny deeps with his faithful lieutenants, the knights from Pushkin's "Tale of Tsar Saltan" and gave short shrift to the pirates, who with agonised shouts of "We won't do it again", vanished like the wind. As a sign gratitude to Neptune, the mermaids, released from bondage, gracefully performed a joyful dance.


Their audience, hundreds of boys and girls, joined in, wildly expressing their delight, right by the edge of the water. On their bronzed bodies they wore only swimsuits — just as it should be on the beach, for this was the beach of the Morskoi Young Pioneer camp, and the spectacle I watched with them was the opening of the Neptune Festival.




Neptune, who was wearing a seaweed beard down to his feet and a golden crown on his head, towered over the scene, sitting on a throne with a trident in his hand. Just then he sounded his horn, calling for silence. First of all, he asked whether the order he had issued some time earlier had been carried out. Under this, everyone who could not swim had to learn by the day of the Festival.


"Yes!" came a great chorus of voices.


"All right. Later on I'll see for myself", said the monarch of the sea. "And now tell me who's

climbed Mount Ayu-Dag."


It seemed that most of them had.


"And who was afraid to sleep by the campfire at night when you went on a camping trip?"


No one, it appeared.


After that Neptune went through the complaints and meted out punishments to the culprits. Both complaints and punishments, like everything else that day, were a very jolly business, like a game in which everyone took part.




The Neptune Festival finished with swimming competitions. There were serious ones in which the winner was decided with the aid of a stopwatch, and a more light-hearted variety, including a kind of egg-and-spoon race with table tennis balls for eggs.


A dropped ball knocked a swimmer out of the competition.


Later on I heard that the Neptune Festival was one of the traditions of the Artek Young Pioneer Camp. It is interesting to note that the children themselves write the scenario for the occasion each time, they make the costumes and the properties themselves, and perform all the roles.


What Is Artek?


In my story about the festival by the sea I used two words: "Morskoi" and "Artek". It's time

to explain. But first let me turn to the Guide to the South Coast of the Crimea. It says: "The warm, mild climate, the abundance of sunny days, the beauty of the mountains and valleys along the coast, and the luxuriant subtropical vegetation has made this area famous as the finest resort zone in the USSR."




This is where Artek is — an all-Union Young Pioneer Camp, the biggest of its kind in the Soviet Union. It covers an area stretching along the Black Sea • coast from Mount Ayu-Dag to the resort of Gurzuf, nearly five miles long. On this territory there are, in fact, five camps, one of them being the Morskoi camp referred to earlier. Each has its own dormitory blocks, canteens, medical posts, beaches, and sports pitches. Add to that a Pioneer Palace with a concert hall, a museum, and a library with 100,000 books, a school block (children who come in term-time continue with their lessons), a Young Technicians' Station and, finally a stadium with seats for 10,000, and now the picture of Artek is more or less complete. "You must visit our museum," I was advised when I arrived at Artek. The "museum" turned out to be a large room with a host of photographs on the wall and ten display cases. But there was a tremendous amount of interesting information here. Take one old photograph: amidst thick greenery by the sea there were four tents, and nearby stood a deal table and long benches beneath an awning. That was how Artek began in 1925, when 80 Moscow schoolchildren spent two summer months here. Now Artek has grown to the extent that it accommodates 27,000 children from all over the country every year.


There is also a colourful map showing both hemispheres. Fanning out from the Crimean Peninsula are thin lines to all parts of the world — to Europe, Asia, Africa, North and South America, and Australia. These are Artek's international contacts. Soon after the Second World War, children from abroad began to come to Artek. In the last twenty years more then 12,000 children from 105 countries have spent summer holidays here.


By the side of the map is material evidence of the fruitful international contacts of Artek —a Certificate of Honour from the World Council of Peace and the gold "Fighter for Peace" medal of the Soviet Peace Committee. Two fat albums contain the autographs of honoured guests who have visited Artek. Among them have been Mikhail Kalinin, Kliment Voroshilov, Maurice Thorez, Palmiro Togliatti, Walter Ulbricht, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, and well-known Soviet and foreign writers, composers and cosmonauts.



"Artek is a real Paradise, but an existing, earthly one, where the children spend their time building up their physical strength, acquiring knowledge and engaging in sport." This was what Henri Barbusse wrote after visiting this camp by the Black Sea at the .end of the twenties. Anyone who has spent even a few hours there cannot help agreeing.


I was at Artek for several days, and although it was a comparatively short period it provided impressions enough for a book. But here I shall confine myself to giving a brief account of what happened on just another day at the Morskoi camp.


An Ordinary Day


It began at seven o'clock as usual, when the silence was shattered by the silver strains of the Young Pioneer bugles sounding "Reveille". The children spilt out like peas from the pod onto the square in front of the dormitory blocks, and then it was "One, two! One, two! Trunk bend ..." That was the daily dozen. After that they washed and breakfasted.


When the sea was calm, the children usually went to the beach after breakfast, but this time they had to get by without their swim. In the night there had been a bit of a storm, which had died down by morning. There was scarcely a cloud to be seen, but the waves were mounting higher and higher. Well, so one could go fishing from the jetty —it's supposed to be the best time after a storm. That was what two of the boys plumped for, any-way. One of them was a fair-haired, blue-eyed, sturdy youngster, and the other was the exact opposite — lean, and with great black eyes. It was Mitya Morozov and his pal Bagautdin Abdurahmanov.


"May we have permission to go fishing, please?" they asked a girl with a Young Pioneer leader badge pinned to her blouse.


They asked, because what they were proposing was not part of the strictly observed order of the day, and discipline is discipline at Artek. But the idea is not to cramp initiative, as I could see for myself at every step.


Olga Mazo, the Young Pioneer leader, did not object, and a whole group of boys with rods and lines in hand set off for the jetty.


"We're going to the park to get some specimens for our herbarium," announced several girls, clustering around Olga Mazo. Another group of girls had changed out of their every-day costume (they have a parade uniform, too) into white shirts, dark blue shorts, and little white sun hats, and were off to the volleyball court. In a few days there was to be a match against the neighbouring camp, Pribrezhny, and there was some stiff training to put in so that they wouldn't let the side down.


Before ten minutes was up everybody had found some occupation that really appealed to them.


There was a brief lull, and I took advantage of it to talk to Olga. Twenty-five, she was working at Artek for the second year, having come there straight from the Kiev Teachers' Training College ("Most of our Young Pioneer leaders have been to teachers' training college," she explained). Did she like it here, I asked. Very much. The children didn't leave one a minute's peace, she said, but that was a good thing. And then every one of them was different.


Take those young fishermen. Mitya was Russian, son of an office worker on Sakhalin, while Bagautdin was from Daghestan, a shepherd's son. As for the girls who had gone to collect plants, Galya Shniper was Jewish, daughter of a teacher in Novosibirsk, Lyuda Fase was a Mordvin —her father was a factory worker, while Khairi Kudbidinova was a Tajik, and her mother, a Dushambe weaver. "You see," she said, "it's a real International."


After dinner — they had self-service canteens, taking turns at clearing the tables — Morskoi slept the sleep of the just. Every afternoon, in the heat of the day, the youngsters have a two-hour siesta, after which they 'resume their energetic pursuits.


Fans crowded round the table-tennis tables by the open-air swimming pool, reacting exuberantly to every good stroke. By contrast, on the flat roof of one of the dormitories everything was in subdued key. Budding artists were at work on a magnificent view — the bay, with cliffs rising sheer from the water. After a while the table-tennis enthusiasts went off to the "Hundred Pastimes Club", perhaps to rack their brains over some technical teaser, to assemble ingenious machines from meccano sets, or to play chess.


The Young Technicians' Station was particularly popular that day, in some rooms youngsters were busily sawing, planning, or gluing, in others girls were cutting out or embroidering.


In the model shipbuilding room, Slava Ilugin, a schoolboy from Chuvashia, was fixing a radio aerial to the mast of a five-foot-long model.


"The boat's controlled by radio," he explained. "I've already launched it once, but there's something not quite right with the radio."


On other benches I saw liners, submarines and frigates with snow-white sails taking shape.


Next door some of the girls were having a needlework lesson, learning to embroider new stitches, do appliqué, and even cut out a dress. They showed me their work with considerable pride.


I did not get away from the Young Technicians' Station until supper time — everything was so fascinating. I saw model aero-planes that really flew, little ornaments and other souvenirs made from wood or plastic, and albums of excellent photographs, and a hundred and one other things — all the work of the youngsters of Artek. I even saw a film made in the Artek film studio by keen young cameramen, directors, etc. — they have their own cine-cameras, developing and printing laboratory, and all the necessary lighting apparatus and equipment for cutting.


In the evening there was dancing and singing — in the avenues in the grounds, by the sea, on the balconies of the dormitories. There the Russian Birch-tree Dance, the Ukrainian Gopak, the fiery Lezghinka from the Caucasus, and slow, graceful Estonian dances were performed.


So it went on until 10 o'clock, when the bugle went again for bed.



Two Interviews-or One, and Some Notes from a Diary


"From the exhibits in our museum and your own impressions you can already see that Artek has grown tremendously in the 45 years of its existence," Yevgeni Rybinsky, director of Artek, remarked. "We're still developing and extending. Here are a few figures from our long-term plans, which have been worked out by state bodies.


"In the next few years the Lazurny and the Kiparisny camps are to be reconstructed and enlarged, so that each of them will have accommodation for 1,200, instead of 1,000 as at present. A new camp — Vozdushny, for 1,200 children, is to be built, and also a gymnasium and a covered swimming pool, and a second cinema-cum-concert hall seating 1,200.


"The state is rather generous over facilities for youngsters — Artek's annual budget runs into more than 7 million roubles. None of the children have to pay for their holidays here, a large number being paid for by the state and the remainder by the trade unions."


My other interview was not exactly an interview, and was not at all of an official character. I was asking Olga Mazo, the Young Pioneer leader of the Morskoi camp, a few questions about life in the camp, and in reply she brought out her diary. Some of the entries were brief, some longer, there were facts, observations and reflections. Here are some extracts, published with Olga's permission:


"I put a questionnaire to the Young Pioneers in my detachment with questions like 'what would you like to learn at Artek,' and 'would you like to teach your friends here anything.' Not all of them answered the first question, but everyone replied to the second. One of them wanted to teach others to play the guitar, another chess, one of the girls was willing to show the rest how to knit a jumper, another wanted to explain• how to go about getting a collection of minerals together, and so on. I know from my own experience —although I haven't much — that they can teach something to others if only they want to. All my kids are different, but they're all good-hearted and generous."


"Yesterday my detachment went on a trip to Sevastopol. I've been there several times before,

but always find this hero-city very moving. We spent the whole day there, walked about a lot, looking at places where the city's defenders won glory during the Second World War. The expression on all the children's faces was so intent and serious that they seemed to be making an inward vow to be worthy of all those who died to make it possible for them to have such a happy childhood."


"We went off on a long hike and camped for the night in a most beautiful place — Ai-Danil. I'd got the impression, somehow, that Ira Zhukova was rather frail and delicate. Nothing of the sort. She could do everything just as well as the boys. And if someone had the cheek to say: Call this tea? (somebody did) she'd retort: `A thousand times better than at home!' How everyone laughed when they were catching crabs! In the evening we switched on the transistor, listened to music, looked at the stars and sang songs and dreamed dreams. The sea, the sparks rising from the campfire, the singing — it was unforgettable. It's very important to be able to dream, and know that around you there are good friends. Artek remains a memory of youth for one's whole life!"


Artek is often called "The Young Pioneers' Republic". I prefer another name — Land of Youth.







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