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The incredible islands just two miles apart but separated by 21 hour time difference

Imagine being able to walk from Russia to the US, two of the biggest countries in the world. It may sound far-fetched, but it’s completely possible.

At Russia’s very eastern tip and the US’ very western tip both countries almost touch each other, separated only by a slither of water known as the Bering Strait, which when it’s cold enough completely freezes over.

A vast body of water, it is pockmarked by a handful of islands owned by either side of the border, some of which like The Diomede Islands can be seen from the other. The islands are perhaps the world’s most extreme example of a border and everything that it encapsulates: different languages, cultures, and more dramatically a different time zone.

Barely 2.4 miles apart, there is a 21-hour time difference between Big Diomede Island (Russia) and Little Diomede Island (the US), though you can easily walk between the two on an icy cold day. For example, if it is 5pm on a Saturday in Little Diomede, then it will be 2pm on Sunday in Big Diomede. During the summer, the time difference is on hour less due to locally defined time zones.

Once upon a time, The Diomede Islands were inhabited by the same people, the Inuit who reached the land around 3,000 years ago as part of a group of hunters. They liked what they saw and ended up settling.

They weren’t ‘discovered’ by outsiders for thousands of years more, in 1648, when Russian explorer Semyon Dezhnyov stumbled upon them.

It would take another 80 years for the Danish-Russian explorer, Vitus Jonassen Bering, to rediscover them and earn his place as the water’s namesake.

No one has lived on Big Diomede since the 20th century when the Soviet Union designated it a military area, and just 83 live on Little Diomede.

The descendants of those who once lived on Big Diomede now live along the coast of Chukotka, the autonomous Okrug, around 24 miles away.

Given the region’s position just below the Arctic Circle, it’s an extremely cold place. In the summer, temperatures rarely rise above 10C, and the mercury plummets as low as -14C in the winter.

In the colder months, the waters of the Bering Strait completely freeze over, meaning you can in theory walk from the US to Russia, from one politics to another, and from yesterday to tomorrow.

The only known person to have breached the gap is American swimmer Lynne Cox. On August 7, 1987, she swam between the Diomedes in 2 hours and 16 minutes during a seriously intense period of the Cold War.

She was applauded by then-US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev.

For those who still live in Little Diomede, using what the land has to offer is vital to maintaining historical and cultural traditions.

The Inuit hunt things like fish and crabs, and hunting polar bears, walrus, seal and beluga whales.

While this would have been the only way of life 100 years ago, today, locals rely on essentially being dropped by helicopter, things like foodstuffs and medicines, as well as other vital items.


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