A state of emergency has been declared in the remote Russian archipelago of Novaya Zemlya after dozens of polar bears invaded human settlements, according to reports.
According to Russian news agency TASS, the governor of the Archangelsk region said the decision was taken to “prevent emergencies and ensure fire safety”.
“The emergency situation was caused by the mass invasion of polar bears in residential areas,” the region said in a press release.
“Residents, schools and kindergartens are submitting numerous oral and written complaints demanding to ensure safety in the settlement. The people are scared,” it added.
“They are frightened to leave homes and their daily routines are broken. Parents are afraid to let the children go to school or kindergarten.”
Additional fencing has been installed near schools and special vehicles are being used to transport military personnel and employees to their workplaces.
The head of the local administration, Zhigansha Musin, said the emergency would be upheld until the safety of the local population could be established.
The deputy head of Novaya Zemlya, which has a population slightly under 2,500 people as of 2010, said the polar bears had begun gathering over a month ago.
Alexander Minayev said at least 52 polar bears had been spotted near the settlement of Belushya Guba since December 2018, and had on occasion behaved in an aggressive manner.
TASS reported that the bears had attacked people and entered residential buildings as well as offices, and up to 10 bears remained on site at the settlement.
Despite this, the bears are not being discouraged by the use of signals to scare them away, nor by patrol cars or dogs, TASS said.
Polar bears are considered a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Their habitat ranges across the Arctic, including parts of Russia and its northernmost islands.
In 2010, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Alexandra Island, even further north than the Novaya Zemlya archipelago, where he had his picture taken with a polar bear being tagged by scientific researchers.
The Russian environmental watchdog has refused to issue licenses allowing the polar bears to be shot.
Mr Musin seemed to express frustration at the decision, saying: “I have been in Novaya Zemlya since 1983, but there has never been so many polar bears in the vicinity.
“I recall that over five polar bears are in the [military] garrison chasing people and entering residential buildings.
“However, if a cull is banned, we will have to embark on a longer and less safe way for local residents,” Mr Musin added.