The Russian archipelago of Novaya Zemlya has declared a state of emergency after a village was invaded by dozens of starving polar bears, who are attacking residents and rummaging in the streets for food.

In recent years, polar bears in the northeastern region have been forced to flee inland as surrounding sea ice melts, causing starvation among the bears and driving them to seek out food sources far from their natural habitats.

At least 52 polar bears have been sighted in the streets, homes and office buildings of the remote arctic village of Belushya Guba, resulting in attacks on residents and groups of school children. As a result, local authorities claim that residents are often scared to leave their homes.

Deputy administrator of the region Alexander Minayev explained:

“People are scared, afraid to leave their homes, their daily activities are disrupted, parents are afraid to let their children go to schools and kindergartens.”

In some social media posts, however, residents adopt a playful attitude toward the predators, even going so far as to speak to them and beckon cubs toward them.

“’Misha,’ come to me, do you understand?” one resident tells a hungry cub as a sloth of bears nearby digs through a heap of garbage.

“The poor creatures, eating from the trash,” commented Instagram user @nastya_ostrozhnova.

Since December, the military has attempted to ward off the threat of the polar bears using lights, alarms, patrol cars and dogs. Yet in recent weeks, such measures have failed to prevent the bears from approaching the village, which is home to about 560 people.

“I’ve been on Novaya Zemlya since 1983 … never before has there been such a massive invasion of polar bears,” local administration leader Zhigansha Musin explained. “[They] are literally chasing people and even entering residential buildings.”

Russian federal law classifies the polar bears as a vulnerable species, which prevents authorities and locals from using firepower against the animals.

A team of specialists have reportedly been dispatched to the region to advise residents on alternative measures to prevent dangerous interactions with the bears.

However, authorities fear that they will soon have no choice but to enact a cull of the desperate creatures to prevent the “siege” from continuing.

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