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Spitsbergen. The long dark night

Life in the Arctic: mining community, months without sun and kids playing indoors

The icy island of Spitsbergen in the Arctic ocean is not well suited to daily life: polar bears, unrelenting wind, and the long cold night; when the sun doesn’t rise for months. Even so, people do choose to live there. 

Company town of Barentsburg
The company town of Barentsburg is home to about 500 people employed by the state-run Arktikugol.

Outnumbered by polar bears, around 2,500 people live on Spitsbergen: Norwegians who maintain nominal control of the island and their Russian neighbours from the mining settlement of Barentsburg. No visa or customs controls are needed if you want to go to the island, but you have to be self-sufficient and fit enough to work. 

All of the Barentsburg residents work for the Russian state mining company, Arktikugol (‘Arctic Coal’), which runs the mines and infrastructure, including hospital, hotel, school, kindergarten and the sports and cultural centre. In the past, only male workers came to Spitsbergen, but now women and even children move in to keep their families together.

The island of Spitsbergen
Those living on Spitsbergen say they have three seasons: day, night and snowmobile season.

RTD’s Natalya Kadyrova is off to Spitsbergen to check out life inside the Arctic circle. How do you adapt to perpetual darkness? Why is money forbidden on the island? Can the children ever play outdoors? How often do Norwegian and Russian neighbours meet? For the answers and more, join Natalya’s icy adventure.