Kirkenes, a Norwegian town that throws rocks from Russia, has been a symbol of Arctic cross-border harmony for more than three decades. It was destroyed when Russia invaded Ukraine. Since then people have been adapting to the new reality.
One possibility is that neighboring Finland could join NATO in Norway, Finnish President Sauli Ninisto said on Thursday, adding that it should be implemented in a military alliance.
With Norway making some exceptions to international sanctions, companies here are seeking to reduce their reliance on doing business with Russia.
Residents of Kirkenes can enter Russia with visa-free permits while Russians can come and work in the area. Of the city’s 3,500 residents, 400 are Russian. There are also about 30 Ukrainians.
After the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, “many felt sad, angry, frustrated,” said Lane Norum Bergeng, mayor of the municipality of Soyer-Varenger, including Kirkenes.
“It was a surreal time. We have lived in peace for many years and now our neighbor is at war with one of his neighbors. It has affected us all,” he said from his office, in the same precinct as Russia. Consulate
From Kirkenes, 15 minutes to the Russian border and 50 minutes to Finland. Both are closer than the neighboring Norwegian municipality.
“Whether they want to join NATO depends on Finland,” said Norm Bergeng. “If they want, we should welcome them. I am very happy that Norway is part of NATO.”
Street signs were set up decades ago in both Norwegian and Russian to welcome Russians. A petition seeking their removal is now being circulated, although the city council does not have enough signatures to discuss it, the mayor said.
Russian residents told Reuters they still felt as welcome as before the attack.
“I didn’t have any problems. No one came up to me and said, ‘Hey, you’re Russian,'” said Gleb Karionov, a 43-year-old welder, during a break in his shift at Kimek Shipyard.
Similarly, a Ukrainian refugee who arrived in Kirkenes in April said that the Russians he met were “very kind” to him.
“They are not aggressive. And we try not to talk about politics and such provocative questions,” said Katrina Bezruk, 27, a teacher who fled eastern Luhansk with her two-year-old daughter Arena and now lives with her aunt. .
Some are finding new meaning in their work. Evgeny Goman, a theater director from Murmansk who has been living in Kirkenes since January, has been working with exiled Russian artists to present various Russian voices away from the military government.
“As soon as the war started, we really understood why we do art … why it’s a powerful tool,” said the 42-year-old in this art gallery, adding that a regional combination of curators and artists, Pecan has Pa Brown. (Girls on the Norwegian bridge).
At Kimek Shipyard, which earned 70% of its revenue from Russian ship fittings last year, CEO Gregor Mansavark is concerned about restructuring the business without losing 80 of its employees to other employers, including 15 Russians.
Although non-EU Norway has imposed most international sanctions, it has not closed its ports to Russian fishing vessels, a lifeline for Arctic Norwegian ports such as Kirkenes.
If Norway had applied for that special approval, it would have laid off half the workers at Mansworth Shipyard, he said. Kimek’s advantage in Murmansk continues to operate independently of Kirkenes’ main advantage.
“I am planning for a future when Russian clients are not the main ones. Today the percentage is 70%, maybe it should be 20%,” he said at Caverns Yard where a Russian trawler was being prepared.
Will cross-border cooperation ever fully resume in the future? Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stowar is optimistic that this will happen.
“One day later, I don’t know when,” he said during a visit to the city. “I think the consciousness of the people living in this municipality is that borders should be respected, but there should also be communication. We have to live through it.”
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and was published from a syndicated feed.)