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At the Top of the World, a Very Unusual Crime

Revisiting the bank robbery that shook Longyearbyen, Norway
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 30, 2020 11:44 AM CST
Updated Feb 1, 2020 11:30 AM CST

(Newser) – Though rifles abound in Longyearbyen, Norway, the worst crimes that tended to occur were the theft of unattended boots—until late 2018, that is. In a piece for Outside Online, David Kushner takes readers to one of the northernmost settlements on the planet, a town of 2,200 that sits just 800 miles from the North Pole. It's in the Svalbard archipelago, best known for being home to the "Doomsday Vault" seed bank. There are also polar bears, so many that locals who go beyond Longyearbyen's limits are required to carry a rifle—and so the town makes it simple for visitors to rent one. That was the appeal for Maksim Popov, a "single, unemployed 29-year-old ... descending into darkness" in his Russian hometown. He decided to end it all but needed a gun. And Longyearbyen seemed like the easiest place to get one.

But once Popov got to Longyearbyen on Dec. 17, 2018, and got his rifle, he had a change of heart. He didn't feel like dying or heading home. A new plan emerged: Do something that would end in him getting help. That's how he ended up inside the town's only bank, rifle in hand, four days later. "This is not a joke," he told the teller. "This is a robbery. I need hundred thousand." He was ultimately given about $8,000, but only after the bank manager tried to explain just how dumb a move it was: "A single phone call could close the entire town, so there was no chance of getting away," writes Kushner. But that was the point. Popov left the bank, returned his rented gun, and called his mom, who told him to run. "I told my mom that I was on a desert island," he later recounted. So he went back to the bank. (Read the full story to learn his fate.)

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