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Ukraine PM Tymoshenko pledges to save Artek children's center

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The Ukrainian government has pledged to take control of the situation regarding the cash-strapped International Children's Center Artek in the Crimea, the prime minister said Friday.
KIEV, January 30 (RIA Novosti) - The Ukrainian government has pledged to take control of the situation regarding the cash-strapped International Children's Center Artek in the Crimea, the prime minister said Friday.

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 from the 1930s and even carried on working during World War II, when the center moved to Altai.

"The government will fully take under its control issues relating to Artek," Yulia Tymoshenko said at a special conference.

In 1983, the camp was visited by U.S. schoolgirl Samantha Smith, who became famous after writing a letter to Soviet leader, Yury Andropov, for which she received a personal invitation to visit the Soviet Union. Samantha died in 1985 in a plane crash but her mother Jane has appealed to the Ukrainian authorities to help the center.

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.

Tymoshenko said funding for Artek will be increased by 300% to 76 million hryvnias ($9.8 million) in 2009.

She also said the government intends to grant the territory where Artek is located special status to prevent property developers from building on the land.

"The government will initiate the drawing up of a draft law granting special status to the Artek land. The law should envision that the land cannot be privatized, seized or transferred in any way," she 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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