An Arctic town freezes ties with Russia

STORY: This is Kirkenes, a small Norwegian town 15 minutes drive from Russia.

For three decades it has been a symbol of cross-border harmony in the Arctic.

Then Russia invaded Ukraine in February, and since then, its residents have been forced to face a new reality.

The local Mayor Lene Norum Bergeng.

"Our community consists of many Russians and also Ukrainians so of course it's been tough for very many. We have lived in peace for many years and now our neighbour is going to war with one of its neighbours. Of course it has affected us all."

Home to 3,500 people, of which 400 are Russian and 30 Ukrainian, Kirkenes has had bilingual street signs for decades and residents have been able to travel visa-free to Russia.

But the invasion has forced tough decisions, namely with companies seeking to reduce their dependence on Russian business.

"When the invasion happened in February I think we had the whole registry of feelings, many felt grief, anger, frustration. It has been a surreal time since then. Nobody thought this could really happen."

While non-EU Norway has applied most international sanctions, it has not shut its ports to Russian fishing vessels, a lifeline for the ports of Arctic Norway.

Despite this, at the Kimek shipyard, CEO Greger Mannsverk is worried about restructuring without losing any employees.

"I'm not planning for a future without the Russian vessels but I am planning for a future when the Russian clients are not the major ones. That is important. So I still hope that the turnover from the Russian side will be the same but the percentage that today is 70%, should be maybe 20%."

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere is hopeful cross-border cooperation will resume in full before long.

“There will be a day after, at some stage, I don't know when. And I think the spirit of the people living in this municipality is that borders should be respected, but there should also be contact."

For now, the Arctic town in NATO's Norway is freezing ties with its eastern neighbour.

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