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Russian children center to aid Ukraine's crisis-hit Artek

KRASNODAR, January 29 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's Orlyonok children center, a former Soviet-era pioneer camp, said on Thursday it would donate one-day's takings to the cash-strapped International Children's Center Artek in Ukraine's Crimea.

"Having heard that Artek is going through tough times and their staff, who are our colleagues, have been trying to live without a salary since last autumn, we decided to help our friends," a spokesman quoted the center's General Director Alexander Djeus as saying.

"The funds from Orlyonok will be soon transferred to Artek's account," the spokesman said.

Located in the southern Crimea not far from Yalta, Artek is famous as the main Soviet-era pioneer camp that took children in all year round since the 1930s and even carried on working during World War II, when the center moved to Altai. In 1983, the camp was visited by U.S. peacemaker Samantha Smith.

The camp remained a unique international meeting place for children of all ages from all over the former Soviet Union and other countries after the breakup of the U.S.S.R. when already under Ukraine's jurisdiction, but closed in January over a lack of funds. It is currently supervised by the Ukrainian president's property management committee.

The Russian version of Artek, Orlyonok (Eaglet), was established in 1960 and located on the Black Sea coast near the town of Tuapse, remains the main children's center in the country nowadays.

"Orlyonok and Artek have much in common. Artek is 30 years older than Orlyonok that's why when the educational system was being established, Orlyonok's children learned from Artek's children and always considered Artek as their elder brother," the spokesman said.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko instructed the country's Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko on Wednesday to look into and take urgent measures to prevent the possible closure of Artek.

During a video link between Kiev and Moscow devoted to the problem, Artek's chief doctor, Mykhailo Bezugliy, blamed interest groups, which plan to take over the center's land valued at some $100,000 per 100 sq m, for orchestrating its financial woes.

Artek General Director Boris Novozhilov said in Kiev on January 16 that the center could cease to exist within a year as the government had not provided any funding for the former Soviet recreation camp for three years.

Novozhilov announced a hunger strike on January 19 and was hospitalized with heart problems on Monday.

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