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Kirkenes: A Norwegian Town United by Compassion

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The town of Kirkenes lies on a peninsula facing the Barents Sea, which borders both Russia and Finland. Just a little over two square kilometers in size, Kirkenes has a population of an estimated 3,500. Apart from the Norwegian and Sami native people, migrants from Finland, Germany, Russia, Ukraine, and other countries are among its residents.

On February 24, 2022, things changed overnight when Russia started its invasion of Ukraine. On May 11, as a gesture showing solidarity with the Ukrainian people and condemning the war, Kirkenes severed ties with Russia and urged its local businesses to reduce dependency on the country. Because of its strategic position connecting Norway, Russia, and Finland, Kirkenes has experienced its share of tragedy caused by war.

In 2015, the town welcomed hundreds of Syrian refugees each week, after they crossed the border on bicycles, and then entered Norway from Russia. In the last few months, Kirkenes has seen an increasing influx of Russian migrants escaping the tight control of the government.

Rock carvings discovered a few kilometers from the town suggest that human habitation in the area dates back from 5200 to 4200 BC. In the early 1900s, Kirkenes began to develop economically because of the iron-ore mining industry, and in recent years, its important geographical location has presented new opportunities.

Kirkenes is also gaining a reputation as a tourist town. Located in the middle of the Aurora Zone, Kirkenes has an estimated 200 Aurora Borealis nights per year. The annual reindeer-people migration in Kirkenes is an important traditional event that has lasted for thousands of years in the Sami culture.

The indigenous Sami people of arctic Scandinavia were the earliest inhabitants of the Kirkenes area thousands of years ago. The Sami people follow their natural way of life and work to protect the environment of their homeland. Along with the rest of the world, the residents of Kirkenes are looking forward to a quick end to Russia’s war so that they resume open, free travel and communication with their old friends and neighbors.
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