The most famous PR image of the pioneria of the Soviet Union was a summer vacation camp situated in the Crimea (Ukraine), next to Gurzuf town. Founded as a sanatorium for the kids suffering and recovering from the TB by the Russian Society of the Red Cross, it first opened doors in 1925, June 16th, accommodating about 80 kids from Moscow and the nearest Ukrainian towns.
Then it was just a step ahead of a basic camping ground, with kids sleeping in tents out in the forest. However, it grew rapidly until in early 1930s a few permanent buildings were built. It was then Artek started working all year round due to its mild Mediterranean-like climate.
For a regular Soviet kid, a ticket to Artek did not cost anything – yet it had to be well-earned. Within a school, for instance, only the top students were rewarded by the trip to Artek. During its heydays Artek accommodated about 27 000 kids a year, so from its first days to 1969 about 300 000 kids were able to enjoy the facilities. By then the area of the camp was about 3.2 km², there were more than a hundred bulidings including the sleeping quarters, three medical buildings, a proper school for those visiting Artek during the academic year; a movie pavillion Artekfilm, three swimming pools, a stadium seating more than 6000 spectators at a time as well as a park, a garden and some sporting and play grounds.
After the Collapse of the Soviet Union the popularity of Artek took a swing, due to the lack of funding and the overall mishaps of the Ukrainian country. But it quickly gained its status back and it is a popular vacation site for the kids from all over Russia and Ukraine – despite the fact that now the parents bear the costs of a vacation.
A typical day at Artek would have a 7 am start, regardless of the season, followed by the morning exercise and bathroom routines. After breakfast kids would go to the beach, be it summer – or to the school quarters in winter, where they’d stay till lunch – sunbathing or studying, depending how lucky they are. After lunch – and this has been reinforced quite seriously from the very early days of the camp – all kids, regardless of age, would have to take a two hour nap. Traditionally the Artek nap has been nicknamed as Absolut – because during the nap the supervisors would require absolute silence – even if one was awake, he could only read quietly in bed, no exceptions. After the nap and a wee snack (a glass of juice/piece of fruit/tea with biscuits) kids split up into their teams and prepare for competitions or concerts till dinner. After dinner – and the food was good! – the whole of Artek would get together. 10Pm was the bed time, and it would be much desired – after such an intense day.
Structurally Artek was a group of ten smaller camps, each accommodating kids according to their age, from 9 up to 16. Each team of kids would have two or three adult supervisors, who typically are students in training to become teachers. The supervisors are responsible for kids safety, entertainment and the nicest memories. Kids would have to defend the honour of their teams in sport, singing, dancing, theatrical plays and so on.