Inside abandoned Soviet town where polar bears have replaced 1,000 residents

A spooky old European town lies frozen and abandoned with deadly polar bears the closest things it has to citizens.

Far above the Arctic Circle on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, nestled in a bay off the Sassenfjorden, the town of Pyramiden sleeps. Its name translates to The Pyramid because it sits at the foot of a mountain shaped like one and back in the day it was a thriving mining community home to more than 1,000 people.

Now, it’s a ghost town where polar bears are the thing you’re most likely to run into. Just six people operate as rifle-carrying warders in the summer and it is 31 miles from the nearest settlement – but despite this dark tourism there has been gently ticking along since 2013.

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The town was first founded by Sweden in 1910, but 17 years later was sold to the USSR. During the Soviet era, miners from modern-day Ukraine were sent there to work, fostering a bustling community with a theatre, a library and studios for both art and music. It was productive too. From 1955 to 1998, up to nine million tonnes of coal were thought to have been pumped out of Pyramiden.

But while the schools, 24-hour canteen and sports complex are all gone, what remains is a statue of former Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin, the furthest monument to him in the world. To make things even more spooky, one visitor to the town in 2018 wrote in Haaretz: "There are thousands of angry polar bears all around us.”

This is a town frozen in both ice and time. The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and mining dried up and came to a halt in 1998 – as people flooded out of the town they left behind the signs of life that would remain untouched some 25 years later.

Today you can only get there by boat or snowmobile for nine months of the year and is even described by the Svalbard Tourism Board as a “living museum”.

Svalbard belongs to Norway under the Svalbard treaty, but its power here is not complete. Instead, the treaty reads: “All citizens and all companies of every nation under the treaty are allowed to become residents and to have access to Svalbard including the right to fish, hunt or undertake any kind of maritime, industrial, mining or trade activity."

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