Russia’s Arctic towns prepare for more polar bear ‘invasions’ as sea ice melts

Airport maintenance worker Ruslan Prikazchikov was coming to the end of a night shift last week when he glanced out the window and saw a polar bear walking down the taxiway, stopping every few feet to look around.

He wasn’t overly concerned. As a lifelong resident of Amderma, a hardscrabble former mining and military town perched on the edge of the Arctic Ocean 1,200 miles northeast of Moscow, Mr Prikazchikov has seen more than a hundred polar bears first-hand. He took a quick video on his phone, yelled out the window so the bear would keep moving and put the kettle on for tea.

“It’s par for the course,” he said. “They were always here. They are the masters here, so we don’t conflict with them, and they don’t show aggression toward us.”

The “tsar of the Arctic” has indeed always been part of life in Amderma. It features in the folktales of indigenous Nenets reindeer herders, and old photographs show Soviet soldiers feeding condensed milk to polar bears well within reach of their razor-sharp two-inch claws. Some residents even admitted to having poached the animals in the hungry 1990s, when a hide was said to fetch $10,000.

But as global warming melts the polar sea ice, these marine hunters are increasingly being forced onto land. The risk of conflict with the humans is rising, who are also arriving in greater numbers as Russia develops oil and gas deposits and expands its military capabilities in the Arctic.

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