Project

The Fantastic Far-away: “Artek” in a Project by Sergey Polezhaka

On the 90th anniversary of the founding of the international camp in Crimea, Bird In Flight is publishing a collection of Sergey Polezhaka's pictures and stories about a place where the collective is intertwined with the individual.


Sergey Polezhaka, 23

Kiev-based photojournalist. Works in conjunction with Reuter’s and EPA news agencies, La Vanguardia and Der Spiegel magazines and Het Nieuwsblad and Bild newspapers.

I’ve been to Artek twice as a teenager, twice as a guest and twice as a photographer. I’ve mostly filmed the “Traveler” and “Marine” squads.

Crimea and Artek together is a horde of children and teenagers. Sometimes I can’t tell if it’s a counselor or a “participant” who is standing in front of me. Why do you speak to me so formally? I’m only a few years older than you and I was in your shoes not so long ago. You really think we weren’t taking selfies?

Exercises in the morning bring us right back to Soviet times with its magnificent frescoes and a silent, idol-like gym teacher behind your back. And with Lenin hanging even higher. “Front, back, two and three!” Right, left.

Right? Become a leader, defeat everyone else, be higher, faster, stronger, get ahead, outmaneuver, out-run, out-swim the others, lose your voice, clench your chest muscles for the morning photos.

Left? Art criticism clubs, film festivals, Friendship of Peoples’ bonfires, collective lessons of tolerance for one another. “Imagine all the people…”? Come on, this whole leftist-intellectual discourse can’t possibly be squeezed into people’s heads in three weeks in one place.

It’s awesome compared to what I experienced in school, which was a complete mess and full of egotistical children

You climb Ayu-Dag. Persevere. Of course some people are whining, but for three weeks you become a real team and take the mountain for yourselves. If someone gets sick, you help him. It’s awesome compared to what I experienced in school, which was a complete mess and full of egotistical children.


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You stay up late – way past curfew! – exercise and get yourself ready for the final competition. You find common ground with each other, although everyone is different. Two days until the squads change places, all of the “traveler squads” are rooting for the “marines,” kind of like blood brothers. The next day, the penultimate day of change, they switch and the travelers become “marines” in the competition. It looks really cool: the “marines,” older and stronger (many of them are rowers), yell and stomp their feet, cheering for the small, fast and scrappy traveler-athletes.

A large mob in the educational and health institutions is only a slice of society, like in a hospital or a jail.

Do only a select few come here? It’s not possible. A large mob in the educational and health institutions is only a slice of society, like in a hospital or a jail. Is it possible that you will fundamentally change within three weeks? I don’t believe it. You can clean up a spoiled child a bit, but can you reeducate a fundamentally lazy crowd and turn them into proactive and energetic young citizens? No way.

In 2014, I wasn’t given permission to come; the reasons, I think are obvious to all. Someday I’ll be able to work in Crimea again. Perhaps by that time, Artek won’t exist anymore or it will exist in another form. Or, I will have changed and will have stopped asking questions.


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