The Diomedes Islands, two different worlds just four kilometers apart in the Bering Strait

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In few places on the planet do time and space conspire to erect a barrier so enormous and surreal as in the Diomedes Islands. Here is the United States, there is Russia. Here is today, there is tomorrow. From here you can see the future, from there you can see the past.

A day can be an eternity, or just a fleeting moment. As is the case of the Diomedes Islands, in the Bering Strait, where past, present and future come together amid fog, ice blocks, freezing temperatures and the snarling of polar bears. Less than four kilometers away, the Big is Russia and the Small is the United States, and they are also divided by the international line of the date change. Two infinitely different worlds.

In winter, with the waters flowing from the Chuckchi Sea turned into a solid block of ice, you can walk from one to the other, do the tour on skis or snowmobile, although theoretically it is illegal. It was common until after World War II and the lifting of the Iron Curtain, when the two islands were populated by Inupiat Eskimos, often belonging to the same families. The Russians moved by decree in 1948 all the inhabitants to Siberia, so that nor become contaminated with the “decadent customs of the West”, and they only left a naval station with observation satellites to monitor the enemy.

The Iron Curtain thus also became an ice curtain. In Little Diomedes it remains a native population of eighty people, concentrated in a town at the foot of a promontory, relatively sheltered (that is to say) from the fury of the wind and the sea (the waves often reach ten meters in height), on the western side. Therefore looking at Russia, looking to the future as who says, because there, on the sister island, it’s twenty-one hours later.

The first European to reach the Bering Strait was the Russian navigator Semion Dezhnev, in 1648, but it is not proven that he sighted or set foot on the islands. Who did do so was the Danish Vitus Bering on August 16, 1728, the day the Orthodox celebrate the feast of the martyr Diomede. In 1867, the treaty for the purchase of Alaska by Washington established that one was Russian and the other North American, thus sealing the fate of its inhabitants.

Russia is the closest country to the United States not separated by a land border, due to the curious phenomenon of the Diomedes. Since the international date change line was moved, Kiribati, in the Pacific, is the first place in the world to celebrate the arrival of the new year, but until then it was an honor that the Big Island shared with parts of Siberia and New Zealand . In Little, however, it took almost twenty-four hours to eat the grapes (although it is not a custom of the Eskimos, who prefer a fermented walrus stew and a seal blood cake, each one has his palate, not everything is omelette potato).

The few hundred inhabitants of Little Diomedes They live by fishing for salmon and crabs king (a highly valued delicatessen, subject to strict annual quotas), and hunting bears, seals and walruses (which is allowed to the natives). In the town there is a school, a grocery store, a post office and a community center where traditional dances are held, with internet access for a few hours after school, so that children can connect and have fun with their video games.

Global warming It causes the waters to freeze later and later, the thaw arrives earlier and the permafrost layer is decomposing, which has made the airstrip unusable for most of the year for aircraft coming from Nome or Wales, on the continent, so now the only communication is by helicopter, and a barge that periodically carries supplies. Everything is very expensive. A bottle of detergent costs 45 euros. Alcoholism and sexual abuse are very serious problems.

At the end of the cold war, in 1987, a woman named Lynne Cox swam the 3.8 kilometers that separate the Diomedes (Gvozdev in Russian), amid thick fog and strong currents, with the water at only three degrees of temperature and serious danger of hypothermia (“the cold was like a vampire that extracted the heat of my body and it made my fingers turn gray, ”he recalls). At first the Soviets were reluctant to let her step on the Big Island, but finally Gorbachev agreed, and even sent a delegation of sportsmen, dignitaries and KGB agents (just in case) to welcome him. Soon after, the Russian president traveled to Washington to sign a nuclear weapons reduction treaty with Ronald Reagan.

In few places on the planet do time and space conspire to erect a barrier so enormous and surreal as in the Diomedes Islands. Here is the United States, there is Russia. Here is today, there is tomorrow. From here you can see the future, from there you can see the past.

Rafael Ramos. The vanguard

PB​

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