Despite being separated by just 3.8 kilometers, the Diomede Islands find themselves not only in different countries, but also twenty hours apart, due to the International Date Line passing between them.
Big Diomede is a part of the Russian Federation and is its easternmost point. Neighboring Little Diomede is part of Alaska. The islands were first populated by the Yupik peoples and used for hunting as long as 3,000 years ago, but Russian explorer Semyon Dezhnev was the first European to discover them in 1648.
It was eighty years before they were rediscovered by Danish navigator Vitus Bering on August 16th, 1728, celebrated in the Russian Orthodox church as the day honoring the Martyr St. Diomede. For many years, both islands had a small native population, but the population was eventually forced off of Big Diomede because of the Cold War. It is now unpopulated and the only structure in use on the island is a Russian weather station.
During the Cold War, the relationship between the two superpowers chilled, but the ‘Ice Curtain’ did not stop Lynne Cox from swimming between the islands in 1987, where she was congratulated by both Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan. In 1997, comedian and television presenter Michael Palin visited the island at the start of his television show Full Circle.
Little Diomede has a small town, Diomede (or Ignaluk), with a population of approximately 170, over 90 percent of which are Native Americans. The islanders are famous for their ivory carvings and the city functions as a wholesaler for the carvings, which are sold in Fairbanks and Anchorage as well as on the internet.
Know Before You Go
The only access to Little Diomede is by helicopter or private boat. Around one boat a year arrives to deliver cargo. There is no sea port due to the dangers of high waves, ice, and the island's rocky shoreline. There is no airport, although an ice runway is often constructed during the winter, weather permitting. Landings by sea or air should only be attempted by experienced professionals as they are considered very hazardous.