True north: travel to the edge of the world with these photos of post-Soviet Svalbard

In its heyday, Barentsburg was home to the largest single community of Soviet citizens living outside of the Iron Curtain, who migrated there to develop a coal mining industry. Now the landscape is a beautiful, alien mix of Arctic emptiness and post-industrial decay

13 September 2018

The combination of pristine Arctic terrain and Soviet industrial decay produces the very strange beauty of Barentsburg. This small mining town is the second largest settlement on the remote Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. In its heyday, Barentsburg was home to the largest single community of Soviet citizens living outside of the Iron Curtain, who migrated there to develop a coal mining industry. It just so happened that this was the northernmost inhabited settlement on the planet, some 1,327 kilometres from the North Pole. Today, there are 400 people residing here out of the 3,600 people living on Svalbard in total. London-based photographer Alexandra Lapina says she followed her father to this distant corner of the world: “My father is a mining engineer and produces equipment for active mines in Barentsburg, Spitsbergen. After hearing stories from his trip in 2016, I decided to to travel there by myself.” She was struck by the seemingly infinite landscapes and lifeless wilderness around her. “I quickly realised it was going to be a challenge to capture the scale and expanse of the Arctic. At times there were no trees, no buildings, no points of reference. The landscape would stretch on and on, giving you the feeling that you were on another planet,” she describes. The vistas that make up her series No Man’s Land are punctuated by objects that feel out of place in their isolated surroundings — an Orthodox Icon, a football goal and CCTV cameras. These traces of human life only add to Barentsburg’s otherworldliness.