A man in a chapka hat and black coat, rifle slung over a shoulder, idles on the pontoon as a group of tourists sail in to visit Arctic oddity, Pyramiden, a Soviet-era ghost town. Alexander Romanovskiy, better known as Sasha, is the guardian of the mining town abandoned in 1998 but still owned by a Russian firm, Arktikugol, though it is located on a fjord on Norway’s Spitzberg island in the heart of the Svalbard — islands halfway between continental Norway and the North Pole. ‘The Svalbard is Norwegian but had a special status enabling other people to live or work there,’ tour guide Kristin Jaeger-Wexsahl tells the group of several dozen who sailed from the Norwegian town of Longyearbyen, some 50 kilometres (30 miles) away. But as they step off to visit the former coal centre named after a pyramid-shaped mountain in the background, Sasha takes over. Why is he armed? In case of polar bears, until recently the town’s only inhabitants,

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