Barentsburg, the next-door neighbour of Isfjord Radio and the only remaining Russian settlement on Svalbard, is like taking a trip back in time. As you enter Barentsburg, the first impression is of being transported back in time to Soviet Russia; the town centre even features a statue of Lenin. A single road cuts through the small town. Old houses, dating back to the beginning of the 20th century, stand on both sides. The facades are a bit crooked and ramshackle. Some houses visibly bear the weight of history. You can really smell the past centuries in the air.
The hotel, and only restaurant in town, has a story of its own. Red colours and dark wood with old furniture. Waiters walking past in very Russian-like uniforms. You should have a Russian coffee, or tea with some buns to experience it yourself. Or, if you’re traveling by boat, you can go fully Russian by ordering a vodka!
As you look past your initial impressions you will realize that Barentsburg is not only a town of the past, but is also looking towards the future. New buildings are under construction, the hotel has been renovated and new murals have been beautifully painted. Barentsburg is trying to break loose from its history, and step into the 21st century.
Today, Barentsburg is the second-largest settlement on Svalbard with about 350 inhabitants, almost all Russians and Ukrainians. Previously, the combined Russian population of Pyramiden, Grumant and Barentsburg represented the majority of inhabitants on Svalbard, but today Barentsburg is the only remaining settlement of the three Russian mining towns. Barentsburg started as a Dutch mining town in 1920, and in 1932 the Dutch sold their concession to the Soviet Union. During the Second World War the entire town got destroyed, but there is still a historic atmosphere to the place, with Lenin on top of the hill overlooking his people.