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Russian mining town in Svalbard

We reached Barentsburg by boat on the 13th July. It was the first settlement we visited on Svalbard, followed by the nearby Longyearbyen.

The town

Barentsburg seems to exist in a time warp, like an half-forgotten town in the Arctic amongst the rusty scrap iron, living a cold and silent life. When the boat was approaching this place, I was struck by the main landscape colour: red. The red of rusty abbandoned iron objects.

The port is not busy, as you would expect from an Arctic town. When the boat got to the coast, we got off, divided into small groups, according to the language we spoke.

A long series of wooden steps, leads us to the centre of Barentsburg and to the road which takes to the sport centre and to the mine.

Barentsburg is a mining town. Stefano, our Italian guide, told us the story of this small silent town.


Barentsburg – View of the city from the bar

Life in Barentsburg

The guide told us that most of the people who live here come from the Ukraine. They come to Barentsburg to work in the mine for two or three years. The cost of any personal purchases is deducted from their final salary.

This is a type of modern slavery. Barentsburg is a town removed from the world, very different from Longyearbyen and Ny-Ålesund.

The entrance to the coal mine is a very sad looking brick building. Inside, an elevator swallows the miners to take them as low as 300 metres. The mine belongs to the coal company Trust Arktikugol.

At the end of the wooden steps there is a bar with a sign to tell you the latitude of the town: 78th parallel North.

Nearby we can see the building of the sport centre, “Polar Star”. Close to it, there is a park. Street lamps are still lit by real fire. You see a chapel in the distance.

Barentsburg for tourists

There was a small gift shop. Here you can buy Russian articles such as military hats, matriosks and similar paraphernalia. To get to the shop we crossed the cultural centre and walked along a road dominated by a statue of Lenin. We passed the mine, the Pomor Museum and we reached the shop.

Here, for 15 Euros, you can buy the Glacial El Dorado Spistbergen, an illustrated book about Svalbard. You also find postcards to send or collect. There are no computers in this office. This makes it all feel as if you are in the past.

There are no roads between Barentsburg and Longyearbyen. In summer you can walk there. In winter you can go there by boat or with a snowmobile.

Locals also organized a show of Russian songs and dances for us. The guide told us that these people are paid to do this. At the end of the show, they say goodbye to us with another song. There is a board with a notice on it saying: “Goodbye our friends”. Near it, you find a basket waiting to be filled with coins.

Stay in Barentsburg

There is only one hotel where you could stay: the Barentsburg hotel. It is on the same road as the Lenin statue. They told us to spend at least one night at the hotel, to fully understand the life of Barentsburg.

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