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3 May, 2010 04:16

Russian servicemen choose a life less ordinary in harsh Arctic conditions

Located three thousand kilometers north of the Scandinavian Peninsula, in the middle of the Arctic, the Franz Josef archipelago looks almost entirely lifeless, if not for the small island inhabited by Russian settlers.

The whole island is covered with a thick stratum of ice of almost half a kilometer. Construction work there has always been challenging. It took 18 months and more than $155 million to erect a modern house to provide housing to dozens of border guards and their families for years to come.

The building where the servicemen and their families reside is shaped in the form of a circle to better withstand the strong winds. Inside it is an Eden-like oasis of greenery that defies the harsh reality of life outside.

“Sometimes it's hard here,” Galina Nosova, wife of the post’s commander, admitted “Few people, not many emotions, no colours, months of 24-hour long polar nights, silence – it builds pressure.”

There is no telephone line and no Internet. Until 2006, local residents had to rely on three-month-old recordings to catch up on TV news.

However, seven years since she arrived, Galina says she would not have it any other way.

On the mainland we have only been spending 20 minutes per day together with my nearest and dearest,” Galina said “Here, we are always together. It makes us a single whole, what I think is a true family.”

Galina’s six-year old son Maksim is also never alone in the playground, as many families here have children. In fact, children seem to be the only residents on the island who do not see anything strange in living literally at the top of the world.

After breakfast I like playing with Sasha (ed. female playmate) or watching cartoons together,” Galina’s son relayed his daily routine. “My favourite is about Gummy Bears!

While the cartoons may indeed be fun, the real life bears that live nearby are far from a laughing matter.

I've always viewed bears as something big, fluffy and slow,” said Galina. “I was shocked when I saw one running! A long time ago, two people were pulled apart by a bear here – an awful death, isn't it?”

Apart from the out-of-the-ordinary existence, military service here also provides soldiers some tangible benefits, as their salaries are significantly higher. In fact, one year of service on the island counts as two back home.

However, some frontiersmen insist that serving in the most remote places in the world is not only about furthering their careers, but also about furthering Russia's place in the Arctic.

Our small settlement is the only one of its kind in the entire archipelago,” explained Maksim Nosov, commander of the Franz Josef Land frontier post. “This region will soon be developed because of the natural resources recently discovered here, and our base will be at the center of the entire island's future advances. Other settlements will appear. But for me, as a patriot, it will be a pride to see my country's base as the base for this development.”