Senior Ukrainian politicians are facing allegations of child sex abuse at a Black Sea holiday camp. The claims will be heard by Parliament on Tuesday and come as the presidential election campaign gets underway.
Popular among children in Soviet times, the Artek youth summer camp in Ukraine’s picturesque Crimea is still a major holiday destination.
A woman claims her son and her daughter were sexually abused there, and has taken her case to Rada (parliament) deputy Vadim Kolesnichenko.
“She said they were not only sexually assaulted by the camp’s employees, but were also forced to be filmed in pornographic movies. According to witnesses, several politicians were involved in it, including Rada deputies,” said Vadim Kolesnichenko.
The woman said the children were first abused by their father at the camp and then taken to a venue
Artek was an All-Union and international Young Pioneer camp in the Soviet Union. It was established in 1925 near the Black Sea, in the Ukrainian town of Gurzuf. The camp grew rapidly. In 1969 it had an area of 3.2 square kilometers, there were 150 buildings, three medical buildings, a school, a film studio (Artekfilm), three swimming pools, and a 7,000-seat sports stadium. Artek was considered to be an honorable award for Soviet children, as well as for kids from abroad. During its heyday, Artek gave 27,000 children vacations each year.
“I immediately raised an alarm and we checked that information,” Kolesnichenko said. “Unfortunately, it was confirmed.”
Police are investigating explosive claims that certain high-ranking politicians, including several Rada deputies, were involved in the abuse.
The Rada member said he contacted law enforcement agencies, the Prosecutor General’s Office and the human rights ombudsman asking them to prevent the closure of the criminal case, which has already been opened, and not drag it out.
“We are now doing everything to prevent high-ranking officials from avoiding responsibility,” the Party of the Regions press service quoted the deputy as saying.
One man whose name has been made public is a deputy from Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s bloc, former economics minister Sergey Terekhin.
“I cannot say anything until the investigation is going. Sorry, but no comments,” was Rada Deputy Terekhin’s brief response.
But while he was evasive in his comments, after hours of testimony it has become quite clear that the Artek case has grown from purely criminal to grossly political.
According to Rada deputies, child sex abuse in the Crimea has been going on for several years. Hardly anyone in Ukraine would call it a coincidence that the information has surfaced only now – as the presidential election campaign kicks off in the country.
Ukraine is due to go to the polls in January. With the public tired of the political infighting, experts are predicting a tough, even dirty, campaign.
Political analyst Dmitriy Vydrin explains the technique: “Even if those deputies are innocent, the general behavior of politicians in this country makes people believe they are doing wrong. There are cases of deputies who have murdered, falsifying their educational qualifications. So now people can easily believe that there are pedophiles among them.”
This case has many people talking in Ukraine, but pending the police probe, the public may have to deal with many claims and counter-claims in the three months before they go to the polls.
The director of the Artek International Children’s Center, Boris Novozhilov, said that he considers these actions “games of politicians and a smear campaign.” In his words, the “irresponsible claim” by Kolesnichenko is just speculation.
Novozhilov has called on the politicians to stop using Artek for their own aims.
The administration’s statement says that Kolesnichenko’s “irresponsible behavior” heavily damages the reputation of the recreation center and of Ukraine in general. It insists that such crimes could not possibly have been committed on Artek property.
“This dirty campaign is a logical continuation of the long-term scheming of the light-fingered politicians, whose strategic plans of destroying the unique social and cultural phenomenon known as ‘Artek’ were broken by the center’s current administration,” Novozhilov said.