North Pole exploration season cancelled over Russia-Ukraine conflict

Around 300 people are stranded in Svalbard, after the North Pole was closed to visitors for the first time in 18 years over tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

The seasonal camp of Barneo, from where explorers are allowed to travel to the North Pole for a brief period annually, is privately operated by Swiss and Russian entities. 

But the planes due to fly adventurers to the camp, established temporarily on a floating ice cap close to the North Pole, were Ukrainian.

The camp was scheduled to open on April 1, but the Ukrainian pilots and crew were not given permission to fly, a move linked to rumbling discontent over the war in eastern Ukraine, according to local media reports.

By the time a replacement plane from Canada was scrambled, weather conditions were no longer stable enough to guarantee enough time to bring visitors to the ice floe and back.

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It's Over Longyearbyen, Svalbard It is with a heavy heart that I write to inform you all that the 2019 North Pole season has been cancelled by the team that operates Barneo, the temporary ice camp near the North Pole. After suffering nearly 10 days of delays due to political wrangling for planes between Russia and the Ukraine, the final straw was that the back up plan failed as well. Because we could no longer count on the use of an Antonov 74 for the season, a Basler (DC-3) was contracted from the Canadian company Kenn Borek. The crew successfully made the long fight via the ice camp at Barneo to Longyearbyen with little or no problems. However, due to unstable weather in Longyearbyen, the Basler would not be able to fly for several days, impacting future flying operations (and safety) for skiers potentially on the ice. It's a perfectly logical decision, and in one sense, a relief. Read more at

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Adventurers are now stuck in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, where they were due to take off from Longyearbyen, the world’s northernmost civilian airport, for their North Pole adventure.

Many of them shelled out as much as €20,000 to make the trip, according to reports.

In a blog post on Friday night, polar explorer Eric Larsen, who had been due to make the expedition wrote of his disappointment:  "This is a situation where everyone loses. Skiers, guides, the Barneo team each of us invested a substantial amount of time, energy and expense. It will not be easily recovered from."

Others, like Galya Morrell, 58, an artist and veteran Arctic explorer who has visited the North Pole 20 times, were still on their way to Norway when they learned of the cancellation.

“We were ready to go in the airport when the news came. It was really surreal – just a few hours ago, we thought we would go,” said Ms Morrell from Moscow, where she had planned to bring a group of Russian teenagers to stage a play in the Arctic about ocean pollution.

“I created costumes for this show entirely made from the garbage we have collected through the years with indigenous children of the Arctic living on the shores of the mighty Siberian rivers and in the fjords of Greenland.”

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The North Pole season is cancelled, as we learned an hour ago. After 10 days of delays, the final announcement was made today at 2pm. All of us who travel to the Arctic often are used to disruptions and delays due to weather conditions: clocks, calendars and even Time in general do not exist in the Arctic, they are subordinate to Sila – the weather. But what happened this time on Barneo has more to do with political storms rather than with Mother Nature’s ever changing winds, fogs and visibility. Because of the territorial dispute down South, Russian authorities banned the Ukrainian pilots and crew from flying skiers, marathon runners, divers, scientists, artists and everyone else to the ice camp. Till the last moment, we were hoping for a magical solution, but it did not arrive. Each time, as you fly from Svalbard to Ice Camp Barneo, you see the shattered sea ice underneath: it looks like a puzzle. This puzzle is breathtaking, it is beautiful and even majestic. Political puzzle which we failed to resolve in the last days is just ugly. #Barneo #NorthPole #arctic #adventure #NorthPoleMarathon @the_explorers_club

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The North Pole Marathon also cancelled its annual race on Saturday due to the travel uncertainty, disappointing its roughly 50 participants.

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Barneo, established in 2002, lies on a shifting ice sheet in international waters, and is a privately run joint operation between two entities, one Swiss, and the other, Russian, according to Ms Morrell.

The name is a joke by explorers, as the base’s weather are the ‘polar’ opposite of that at the tropical island of Borneo in southeast Asia. 

Every year, a team sets up the small camp on drifting ice to support explorers, scientists, and ice divers.

The camp typically opens at the beginning of April for a three to four-week visiting season; as the month draws to a close, the sea ice is usually no longer stable enough to support the camp or those making the trek out there.

This year, a Finnish spirits brand Arctic Blue Gin also had plans to open a one-day pop-up bar in the North Pole, rewarding visitors who get that far up north with a lifetime supply of gin upon returning home.  

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