One nation separated by 4 kilometres and 23 hours

Las Islas Diómedes, situadas en el estrecho de Bering, son una gran curiosidad geográfica: menos de cuatro kilómetros las separan, pero políticamente están a un mundo de distancia.

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The Diomedes Islands have a unique location. They are divided into two countries, two continents and two time zones. The Diomedes are in the Bering Strait, south of the North Pole, and consist of two islands. Big Diomede belongs to Russia and is the country’s easternmost point. Little Diomede belongs to the United States. Separated by the international date line, the small island is twenty-three hours behind the big one. That is why they are also called ‘Yesterday Island’ and ‘Tomorrow Island’. 

The Diomedes were ‘discovered’ in 1734 during a Russian expedition. They were named after St. Diomede, a Greek martyr from the Russian Orthodox Church. St. Diomede was celebrated on the day the islands were found. They were not uninhabited. The indigenous population, called the Iñupiat, lived on both islands. 

cold war

The Diomedes were divided between Russia and the United States in 1867, but people could travel freely. That changed with the Cold War. In 1948, a border was drawn between the two islands. It was called the Ice Curtain. Big Diomede was turned into military base. Its inhabitants were relocated to mainland Russia, separating friends and families.

Little Diomede still hopes for a reunion. Tribal leader Robert Soolook said in a BBC interview:

“It SHOULDN’T be like this. We’ve been here for THOUSANDS of years, before the English came, the Americans, the Russians... before any governments and regulations separated us from our families. This border is BREAKING our HEARTS.”

CLIMATE CHANGE

Life on the Diomedes is hard. The Iñupiat survive through hunting, fishing and helicopter deliveries from Alaska. In winter, the temperature drops to -40 degrees Celsius. The water between the islands can freeze, forming an ice bridge. It is then possible to walk across. However, it is illegal to do so. Due to climate change, it is also extremely dangerous.

Locals on Little Diomede are worried about rising temperatures. Winters are shorter. The hunting season is shorter. Storms are more severe. The ice is often too thin to serve as a runway for planes, so the island is more difficult to reach. For the Diomedes, the threat of the Cold War has ended. However, the threat of climate change has only just begun.   

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