These are the Diomede Islands. They’re made up of two islands: a big one (29 sq km) called Big Diomede, in the west, and a small one (7.3 sq km) called Little Diomede in the east.
They’re right in the Bering Strait, which separates Russia from the USA. In this satellite picture by NASA, the Diomede Islands are flanked by Siberia, Russia on the left, and Alaska, USA on the right.
On the surface, they don’t look like anything special but what if I told you that the time on Big Diomede is 20 to 21 hours ahead of Little Diomede? This is because the International Date Line runs between the two Diomede Islands.
It’s also the reason why Big Diomede is called Tomorrow Island and Little Diomede is called Yesterday Island. How insane is that? Not as insane as finding out that Big Diomede is officially part of Russia and Little Diomede is part of the USA. They belong to different countries!
So, technically if you swim the 3.8 km (at its closest point) distance between the two islands you go from being in the U.S. today, to tomorrow Russia or from Russia today to the U.S. yesterday. This video shows just how far (or near) that swim would be.
But you probably shouldn’t because you might die from the freezing water temperatures. Or from the weather. Or from the strong waves. You could however kayak across, then be arrested by the Russian military based in Big Diomede, then deported. It would be messy but you would still have time travelled!
On a more serious note, this arrangement between Russia and the U.S. really wrecked up the families that have lived on the two islands for thousands of years. On Little Diomede, you can still find around 100 or so Inupiat Inuit. Things are flown in by helicopter for most of the year and by plane when the sea is frozen enough for a runway to be made on the surface of the ice.
(I stumbled upon a physician’s blog where she shared about her visit to Little Diomede (find it here) to see patients. There are pictures of a children running around barefoot in their pyjamas in “30-40 degrees”. If that’s in Fahrenheit, then it’s about -1 to 4 degrees Celcius which is pretty much the temperature water turns to ice. That’s mind-blowing to say the least.)
Back up a few thousand years or so, and you will find the Inupiat Inuit on both islands. Then in 1867, money changed hands between the US government and the Russian monarchy, and suddenly the two islands were separated by an invisible wall that became very real by 1948.
The Soviets by then had built a military base on Big Diomede during World War 2 then shifted the residents there to Chukotka on the mainland before they started running the place like they owned it, which they do.
Apart from splitting families apart, taking those on the big island away from their relatives on the small island, the Russian side is very protective of their border, often sending warning shots when villagers got too close to the island while hunting by boat.
Imagine having your life uprooted like that based on decisions made by people who have never and probably will never visit your home due to its remoteness.
That’s real messed up.