16:03 GMT +322 November 2017
    Alexander Romanovskiy

    Remote Island of Spitsbergen Through the Eyes of its Russian 'Guardian’ (PHOTO)

    © Photo: Alexander Romanovskiy
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    Spitsbergen is the largest and only permanently populated island of the Svalbard archipelago in northern Norway and a gateway to the Arctic. Sputnik met with Alexander Romanovsky who has been guiding Russian tourists coming to the archipelago for almost four years now.

    Alexander moved to Spitsbergen after coming across an online ad about a tourist company being set up there by Russian company Arctikugol, which brings tourists to Spitsbergen, including to an abandoned miners’ village known as Pyramiden.

    “In 2014, our Arctikugol Company opened an Arctic Tourism Center and started hiring staff. I’m their longest-serving guide and with the number of tourists coming here growing all the time, I think we are going to have more guides working here,” Alexander said.

    When asked about what makes Spitsbergen so attractive to would-be guides, Alexander said that, first of all, it is the romantic atmosphere, a chance to live in  beautiful and unique place and also to make some money.

    He added that foreigners account for over 90 percent of people coming to the island.

    “I love my Norwegian colleagues, but I always ask them not to discuss politics with me because there are things we differ on,” Alexander noted.

    “Foreign tourists like to take pictures of me and they are good listeners too. Journalists and documentary filmmakers also take a great deal of interest taking interviews, making programs about me and writing articles.”

    When asked whether there were any people still living in Pyramiden,” Alexander said that even though the local coalmine will hardly reopen again, the place was doing well and that someday it would  become one of the island’s main touristic highlights.

    “They have completely restored the local hotel and the community center and a café will also be repaired soon, along with the seaport. We are also going to have mobile communications and Internet too,” he said, adding that there were between six and 20 people permanently living in Pyramiden, depending on the season.

    There are many people coming to Spitsbergen. Some of them are artists, some are hunters who move around in dog-drawn sleighs.

    “There was one tourist I will never forget though – a Polar bear, who made his way into the hotel through a museum window. They managed to drive him away. Thank God, no one was hurt,” Alexander recalled.

    “When coming here make sure to take along windbreakers and rain jackets. Even if you don’t see a bear, don’t worry because they are hard to find these days. Come in late March or in October to see the Northern Lights.”
    When asked about his plans for the future, Alexander said he was trying his hand as a guide on cruise liners.

    Alexander Romanovskiy
    © Photo: Alexander Romanovskiy
    Alexander Romanovskiy

    “I’m just back from a trip to the Antarctic. I like this job and think about taking it up. I also have several ambitious traveling projects, which I want to realize this year and next. I hope that Pyramiden will always remain very special to me even though I plan to spend most of my time elsewhere,” Alexander Romanovsky said in conclusion.

    Officially under Norwegian jurisdiction, Spitsbergen has a particular status for Russia, as it has the right to carry out business on the island in keeping with a 1920 treaty that established Spitsbergen as a free economic zone and demilitarized zone.

    Alexander Romanovskiy
    © Photo: Alexander Romanovskiy
    Alexander Romanovskiy

    At the turn of the 20th century, Spitsbergen was thought to hold some of the world's richest coal seams, which led to an international coal rush. As it turned out, the local mines never made a profit and were eventually closed down.

    Norway and Russia remain the only countries still engaged in economic activity on the island. There are two towns on the island: Russians' Barentsburg (pop. 500) and Norwegians' Longyearbyen (pop. 2,000).

    With the local coal deposits now almost depleted, the two countries have started looking for ways to economically revitalize the archipelago and tourism is now seen as a highly promising option.

    Alexander Romanovskiy
    © Photo: Alexander Romanovskiy
    Alexander Romanovskiy

    In 2014, the Russian coal mining company Arctikugol, which inherited a number of Soviet-era mines on Spitsbergen, decided to establish a company to bring tourists to the island.

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    miners' village, Russian guide, cafe, island, hotel, tourism, Arctikugol, Alexander Romanovsky, Norway
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