The Vityazi Camp is located in one of the most beautiful sections of the Blue Hills—a tourist attraction of Sydney. Friends of the organization and other guests came to celebrate the 50th anniversary with the campers. The Vityazi were led on a parade by new junior counselors Pavel Pliusch and Andrei Laptev, who received promotions and epaulets today, elevated to the rank of “counselors” from “instructors.” The parade was received by the head Vityaz Counselor, Alexei Seleznev, who came from France for the event, and by the Australian Counselor Donat Zakrochimsky.
Over two hundred guests were in attendance. Among them were former Vityazi from a half a century ago, and those who would participate at the new address on Clarence Street. There were also supporters who for years helped the organization. The Vityazi is a benevolent organization, and all its participants work without pay.
The celebrations were a success, unhindered even by a summer thunderstorm.
After the celebrations, with the guests departing, the second week of camp commenced, during which children and adolescents await many more interesting hikes and activities prepared by their counselors. The Australian Vityazi begin their second half-century.
We were able to speak with some of the counselors, friends of the organization and parents of children participating in this year’s camp.
Alexei Nikolaevich Seleznev, Chief Counselor of Vityazi.
— Tell us, when did you first start participating in Vityazi camp?
— My grandfather was the first one in our family to go abroad. He was sent from Russia to the south of France for work at the beginning of the last century. He was a diplomatic regent, then a vice-consul. My father was born in France in 1907. I was born in Belgium. So I am actually a third-generation Russian living abroad. I was first brought to Vityazi when I was four years old. This was in the Belgian branch. Since then, I have participated in the Vityazi organization for 46 years.
The 50th anniversary of Vityazi in Australia is a special event, and I am glad that I was able to come and be with my friends and young Vityazi on this important day. The fact that the counselors were able to establish and maintain a youth organization for 50 years is worthy of respect and the highest Vityaz honors.
Vityazi was first established by Nikolai Fedorovich Fedorov in 1928. A branch was opened in France. Then, a Belgian one followed, then the Australian “okrug.” In 1992, an okrug was established in St Petersburg, Russia. There was a Vityaz camp in Ardatov, near the city of Sarov. Three camps are being set up in Nizhny Novgorod, one on Lake Baikal, one in Karelia.
We are happy that the Vityazi organization is expanding, but slowly, because we wish to preserve the spirit of the organization, cultivating in our youth under our slogan: “For Russia, for the Faith!” That is what we strive to serve. Of course, it is hard to explain to a child born in some country far from Russia—Australia, for example—that they must serve Russia. But tell any one of the kids who attended a Vityaz camp that they are not Russian, believe me, they will fight you. That is what we try to impart to children in our camp. And of course, our Orthodox faith. This is important. Every year a priest attends camp.
Our most important work is with children. Sometime youth groups organize huge, official events, but we try not to forget that these are children.
— How many children have participated in Vityazi over the time of its existence?
— I think about 10,000 in France, 2,000 in Belgium. Over the last two years alone, there have been a thousand children in Nizhny Novgorod’s Vityazi.
— You wear a lot of medals. Who does Vityazi give these awards to?
— We try to award these Vityazi medals to those who are active in supporting the organization. One of the ones I received was issued on the 1000th anniversary of the Baptism of Russia, in 1988.
— What are the main problems facing this organization going forward?
— Our greatest enemy, and I see it everywhere, is inertia. It overcomes people unnoticeably. There are a great many children who wish to go to camp. The Vityazi system has not become outdated over time. Of course, new methodologies can be employed, new technologies. But as we noticed in the new divisions in Russia, they took our existing regulations and began their work. There are a lot of details to work out, but the main foundation—the ideals and goals we have are very specific, understandable and real in our day.
— In which country does the Vityazi organization have the most members?
— In recent years, Russia, but before that, for many years, France. The organization is based in Paris, and summer camps are held in various places. We have two camps in the summer, in July we have about 110 kids, and in August 60-70. We also have a winter camp, a ski camp, and also a seaside camp which is held during the Paschal period.
Senior Counselor of the Australia Vityazi, Donat Anatolievich Zakrochimsky.
— Today we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Vityazi in Australia. How did it all begin?
— Anatoly Iosifovich Zakrochimsky brought the Vityazi ideology from France after World War II. Having come to Australia, he began to correspond with the leader of Vityazi, who at the time was Nikolai Fedorovich Fedorov. This correspondence sparked a friendship between them, and in 1959 we received permission to open an Australian branch in Sydney. It wasn’t easy. Just like every new enterprise, creating a new “okrug” was burdened with overcoming many obstacles. We set up the first camp in 1961 in a place called Blackheath, on property owned by Irina Davidenkova, who, by the way, will soon be 103 years old. We had only 4 vozhatiye, or counselors, and three of them were from one family. Everyone liked this site in the Blue Hills. My father wanted to hold camps in places that reminded him of Russia. Here there are pine trees, lilacs bloom in the spring, plenty of mushrooms in the fall. And the mountain air is good for children. This was a perfect site for the Vityazi hikes, there is a wide variety of footpaths. Over these 50 years, we haven’t even hiked all of them.
At first we didn’t have a permanent site, so we would rent properties in this section of the Blue Hills. When we decided that we needed a permanent home, Vityazi members and others helped raise money. We had benefit balls, bazaars, and, little by little, we saved up enough money and purchased a parcel of land. This was only the first step, and we saved money for another 12 years to build a house before laying the first brick. Then things picked up pace. We built the first house within about a year, and the opening ceremonies coincided with the Millennium of the Baptism of Russia in 1988. Recently a new wing was added with a library and hall. We are beginning work on a small chapel.
— How many children came this year?
— This year, our 50th anniversary years, we have 50 children. Along with staff, there are 59. Today, we had over 200 people visit, including Vityazi of various generations, and their families and many friends.
— What do the children do in camp?
— Life in camp is nothing like life at home. There is no TV, no computer games. Reveille is at 7 am, then calisthenics, the “morning rule” (meaning prayers), the raising of the flag, breakfast, and then the day’s program begins, which consists of excursions, hikes, handicrafts, or Russian language lessons, or history and geography. By the end of camp, we have a concert. For this, the children prepare songs and performances throughout camp.
— How do generations change in the organization?
— The third generation of Vityazi is now arriving. The grandchildren of the first Australian Vityazi are registering now. As they grow up, many have to leave—they begin serious studies in college, then embark upon family life. In order to prepare new counselors, we need older, responsible people who can lead camp and the children’s program. So we try to bring in people like that.
— How is the building used when camp is not in session?
— In the spring, we hold barbecues for the Vityazi and their friends. Soon we will complete the new wing and hope that other Orthodox organizations hold their events here. The setup here is wonderful, and in a beautiful setting. The building can accommodate 30-40 people, and depending on the situation, tents can be set up for 100-120 people. There is a big kitchen, as you can see, today we easily fed over 200 people.
— A lot of your friends and helpers are here today.
— Obviously, I can’t name all those who have helped us over the years. You saw how many medals and awards were distributed today. I’d like to point out that Olga Andrianovna Zakrochimskaya has worked here continuously for 50 years, not only as a staff member—she also works with the kids. Among the veterans who received awards today, along with Olga Andrianovna, was the honorary vozhataya [counselor] Galina Vladimirovna Danilchenko, Irina and Nikolai Laptev. Nina Vladimirovna Engelhardt helped Vityazi for many years—she will soon be 100. Protopriest George Lapardin was the spiritual father of Vityazi for 18 years. Most of the people here today have helped the organization at one time or another. We are very thankful to them all.
Among the many who were awarded, special gratitude was expressed to Taras Danilchenko and Basil Morozov for the construction of the main building at the camp.
— “When we began,” said Basil Morozov, “there was nothing here. We cleared the territory, the contractors poured the cement foundation, lay the brick walls, put up the sheetrock. I would arrive on Friday after work, and go home on Sunday. That continued for several months. Many Russians helped that way, and, gradually, the building was completed.
We are talking to Nina, Eva Novikova’s mother, who is in camp for the first time.
— We heard about Vityazi from our friends, and now Eva is in the junior division. Our daughter has never been without us for long, and naturally, we were worried about how she would feel in camp, living in a tent. To our amazement, Eva didn’t even think about home, and now, after the first week, she is planning to come back next year. Camp life didn’t scare her, even waking up at 7 in the morning, which was unthinkable for her at home. She likes everything about camp. Of course, we had hoped that in camp, Eva would improve her Russian, but noticed that even though most of the activities are held in Russian, and the children understand the language, they still speak English among themselves. It’s unfortunate, of course. But you can’t avoid the “Russian spirit” in camp, the traditions and regimen. The children in her division go on regular hikes, which is good for their health, and they swim in the pool. They keep journals in camp, where they write down the day’s events, and in the evening they sing songs, they rehearse for the concert planned for the end of camp. The whole day is scheduled down to the minute.
The anniversary camp year concluded on January 23. We hope the Vityazi staff finds new helpers and finish their construction, and we with the Vityazi campers themselves a good year.
Vladimir Kuzmin, Sydney