Crimea Legendary Youth Camp May Be Turning Into Oligarch Estate
4 April, 2017

The renowned ‘Artek’ children’s centre, located on the Russian-annexed territory in Southern Ukraine, was originally founded in 1925 as a respite camp for children suffering from tuberculosis. It later became one of the most iconic youth camps for the Young Pioneers during the Soviet era. Due to the area’s warm climate and the camp’s extensive facilities, ‘Artek’ continued to run its year-round youth camps after the Pioneer movement was dissolved along with the Soviet Union, and has been doing so ever since.

Hromadske has gathered information on the current situation at the ‘Artek’ children’s centre and the local areas affected by the recent developments to the camp.

‘Artek’ has always been closely guarded, entrance is only granted for those with permits. However, for the locals, the residents of the town of Gurzuf, access has always been easier. Some of residents even lived within the grounds of the camp.

However, following the annexation of Crimea, the now Kremlin-controlled management of the children’s centre has adopted a somewhat more aggressive policy towards the locals. Having taken over a considerable chunk of Gurzuf land, they have enclosed ‘Artek’ territory within a 3 metre tall, 14 kilometre long brick wall. Now the sea is no longer visible, and a well-known beach, beloved by the locals, has been added to the camp’s property.

Photo: Maxim Shipenkov/EPA

Local children have demonstrated their dismay over the current situation in a video, saying, “All the parks in Gurzuf have been closed, we live near the sea but have been shut off from it. When I was a little I loved walking to Gurzuf park with my parents, there are lots of nice fountains and playgrounds there. The grown-ups chopped down all the cypress trees, pine trees, almond and plum trees- who is this ‘Year of Ecology’ for? I can’t believe that I can no longer walk on our beach, that we are worse than the ‘Artek’ children”.

Plus 40 hectares, minus the cypress trees

Due to the construction of a new campsite within ‘Artek’ lands, more than 40 hectares has been taken away from the town of Gurzuf by order of the ‘government’ of the peninsula, and given to the camp. With this new land, ‘Artek’ have gained an apartment block, two beaches, including the beach ‘Hurovskiy Kameni’, beloved by Gurzuf residents and visitors to the town, and an ancient Muslim cemetery, which has remained untouched, even under Soviet rule.

The new ‘owners’ did not waste any time in changing the landscape of the area. The local residents have complained about the destruction of the cypress and pine groves near the beach.

The fight for a place under the sun

The people of Gurzuf and activists from throughout Greater Yalta have formed a various initiative groups in an attempt  to challenge the loss of their 40 hectares. However, their legal case was dismissed by the Kremlin-controlled Crimean Supreme Court, and the numerous letters of appeal sent to the Russian president were referred back to the ‘government’ of Crimea.

Photo: Andrey Selikhov

They have also held a number of demonstrations. For example, they held a rally in Gurzuf at the end of January 2017, having obtained permission by claiming that their event was being held in support of Putin. They are furious over the greed of the management of the children’s camp, who have ruined the nature and historic monuments of Gurzuf. They even suspect that the construction of the new campus is a cover for the additional construction of oligarch estates.

The Crimean ‘government’ gave no significant response to these demonstrations, but instead tightened ‘Artek control of the local area. The camp was given exclusive rights to the surrounding waters, meaning that boat excursions and other such services that actually provide a living for many local people, are now forbidden in ‘Artek’ waters.

Photo: Andrey Selikhov

A local activist Ihor Baryshnikov said that, in fact, the management of ‘Artek’ are now dispersing the tourist flow of the neighbouring Gurzuf. In response, the current director of the camp, Aleksei Kasprzhak has commented that this decision was made to protect ‘the safety of the children who are vacationing at ‘Artek’.’

‘Artek’ - neither for Crimea nor tourists

Not only are the people of Gurzuf suffering from changes to their local area and environment, their livelihoods and homes have also been affected by the expansion of the children’s centre.

The maintenance of one of the campsites has been contracted to a Moscow cleaning company. Instead of being given permanent positions, the local cleaning staff were merely invited to sign up for seasonal, cash-in-hand work, without sick-leave or work records.

Photo: Maxim Shipenkov/EPA

However, the biggest problem has been housing. After the annexation of Crimea, the campsite was nationalised and eventually allocated for ‘use’ of the Russian Federal government. Now, the housing given to former employees and their relatives 50 years ago during the Soviet Union, is considered to have been ‘illegally constructed’. According to the camp’s director, ‘the low-storey housing on ‘Artek’ land was created to serve a purpose. There are still former employees and relatives of former employees living there who have no legal right to its privatisation’.

It is not clear yet what will happen to these particular residents, the legal proceedings could take years. In terms of the near future however, the holiday season might not come to Gurzuf; the sea won’t be seen from behind the wall, there won’t be as many beaches or boat trips, and the construction vehicles will still be there.  

/by Max Koshelev