On Why One Must Have A Gun And Shouldn’t Lock Doors In Svalbard. The Adventures Of Ivan Kutasov

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Herewith we continue to publish a series of articles about Ivan Kutasov and his journey to Svalbard. In the following segment Ivan is going to tell us about the habits of polar bears, the rules of life in the northernmost capital on our planet – the city of Longyearbyen – and also about the Russian town of Barentsburg, which is situated on the Norwegian archipelago.  

After we departed from Tromso, we sailed for 14 days towards Longyearbyen, the capital of Svalbard. We stayed there only for 3 days, during which time we replenished our supplies of water, fuel, and food, and saw the local sights.

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Photo by Ivan Kutasov

The town itself is located on Western Spitsbergen, the biggest island in the archipelago. It used to be a town inhabited predominantly by mineworkers – coal has been actively mined there for many decades – but over the past 10 years tourism has developed an increasingly robust profile in this area. That is the reason why there are a number of restaurants, bars, and shops with relatively cheap prices, since Longyearbyen is a duty-free territory. The population of the town is around 200 people, mostly young people up to 35 years of age. Also, the northernmost university outpost is located here, and on the outskirts of the town there is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is called the “Doomsday Vault”, and it was built to prepare for a global catastrophe.
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Photo by Ivan Kutasov

Contrary to the cliché, we didn’t meet any polar bears in Longyearbyen. Despite the fact that it is located on the migration course of these animals, for the past few decades there haven’t been any sightings of bears on the streets. However, it is quite common to see a man with a gun on his shoulder, because it is strictly forbidden to go outside the town without a weapon. All doors here are kept unlocked in case it is necessary for a traveler to hide from an uninvited white guest.
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Photo by Ivan Kutasov

There is a law in Longyearbyen that prohibits dying or being born on its territory. There is no maternity hospital, and in case someone gets seriously injured or sick, he has to be immediately transported by air or by sea to a different part of Norway, where he or she can get well or die. Even if a person dies here, the funeral will take place on the “Mainland”. These draconian measures are in place due to the fact that, in an environment of perpetually frozen soil, the bodies would not ever decompose after burial.

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Photo by Ivan Kutasov

A few days after we arrived, we left Longyearbyen and headed towards the Russian town of Barentsburg. Although the whole archipelago is subject to Norwegian sovereignty, in 1924 the Treaty of Paris provided Russia the right to conduct commercial and research activities on the archipelago. Currently, there are two abandoned Russian villages here – Pyramid and Grumant. Another one, called Barentsburg, is still active. Each of them is interesting in its own way. For instance, there is a memorial house in Grumant dedicated to the memory of Rusanov, the Russian explorer of Arctic. The house is in perfect condition and it is fully suitable for habitation during the winter.
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Photo by Ivan Kutasov

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to make it to Pyramid due to weather conditions, but we stayed in Barentsburg for three whole days. The population of the village is 400 people, who mostly work in the coal mines under contract. Currently the village is being cleaned up, and some improvements are underway. There are two restaurants and even a pool with heated salt water. Also there is the biggest northern “skyscraper”, which has all of five floors!

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Photo by Ivan Kutasov

People in Barentsburg brew their own beer, the amount of alcohol in which is only 2.5% because it is forbidden under Svalbard law to manufacture beverages with an alcohol volume higher than that. Tourism is actively developing in this area.
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 Photo by Ivan Kutasov

 

The Barentsburg Museum has a lot of interesting exhibits, including old pictures of the village, detailed descriptions of household activities in the early days, and the history of the village, as well as the whole archipelago. It provides evidence that Russian coast-dwellers were the first inhabitants on Svalbard. There are reports about Ivan Starostin, a coast-dweller of whom I’ve heard before, who, according to one version, lived on the island for 39 years and made it through 32 winters. According to some reports, Starostin’s ancestors hunted on Svalbard way back in the 16th century. The renowned coast-dweller was buried in 1826 on the Cape where his hut was located, and now the Cape bears his name. His grave and his house didn’t stand the test of time. However, I found the Cape and the foundation of the hut on the day after our departure from Barentsburg. The place was unbelievably interesting!
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Photo by Ivan Kutasov

In the museum I found photos which made a great impression upon me. They were taken during the Second World War, when a German submarine completely destroyed the village, and the people living there had to restore it under harsh Arctic conditions.
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 Photo by Grantangen Jon

After Barentsburg, we visited the second Norwegian settlement on the archipelago and the northernmost one in the world, a place called Ny-Ålesund. It is inhabited only by 30 scientists, and you will rarely meet a tourist there. As elsewhere in this region, the houses are always open just in case one has to hide from a bear, and it is strictly forbidden to leave town without a weapon. This was a starting point for many famous expeditions to the North Pole. We spent a day there and even visited the only local bar. It was the last civilized place we were to see for a while, as on the following day we went even farther north.

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Photo by Ivan Kutasov

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