Frances Ozenna, in Little Diomedes

In the telephone conversation with LA NACION, Frances Ozenna, Little Diomede Island Tribal Coordinatorabout him Bering strait, conveyed despair about the possibility of meeting his family on the other side of the border line, in Russia. “My daughter, Rebecca, 26, has all the traits of her Russian great-grandfather. But we were never able to cross to meet our family there. First it was the Cold War, and now this. They no longer allow us to even get close to the Great Diomedes. We are cut off from the world”.

Frances Ozenna, in Little Diomedes

The Little Diomede -North American, which has an area of ​​about 7 km2- and the Great Diomede -Russian, with about 30 km2- are barely 3.7 kilometers away, and once in winter when the sea froze it was possible to cross on foot from one side to the other. “The boundary line is arbitrary. But now, due to climate change, the ice sheet is too thin to risk stepping on it. In addition, Russia installed a military base there and in 1948 he moved the entire civilian population to Siberia. Even warning shots are heard from time to time when a boat gets too close to Russian territory, since you cannot cross the border because there are no customs on either of the two islands,” Ozenna commented.

The Diomedes include several curious facts. Despite the small distance that separates them, there are 21 hours of difference between one side and the other, because the date line passes through the middle of them. This is how most of the day live on different days. That is: when in Little Diomedes it is noon on Saturday, on the neighboring island it is 9 in the morning on Sunday. That’s why Russians usually call their neighbor “Yesterday’s Island”

The two archipelagos share an arid landscape, of rocky cliffs, without trees. But on a clear day, the 90 residents living on the American side can see from their windows into Russian territory, where a Soviet Lisunov Li-2 plane accidentally crashed in 1972.

Ozenna is aware that if there is a remote place in the North American territory, none is as remote as his island. “No one cares about us, we don’t even have a good communication network, nor do we receive too much news about what is happening in the world,” he complains. But the ignorance of the rest of the North Americans regarding the island has changed a bit in recent weeks.

In the burgeoning subgenre of Google Maps-themed TikTok videos, for example, a post by map_nerd about the islands It already has more than 3.5 million likes on the social media app.

Although the island is barely 25 kilometers from the mainland, the only way to get there today is by helicopter. on a 200-kilometre journey from Nome, on the west coast of Alaska. Pathfinder Aviation offers flights that include emergency transfers, which the company says are available 24 hours a day. Aviation company Bering Air suspended flights to Diomedes after a storm broke up the frozen runway in 2018. “We look forward to resuming service in the future!” the company says on its website,

The history of the population of the region goes back several thousand years. Many historians even maintain that the first Amerindians came from Asia and entered through the Bering strait, between 30,000 and 10,000 years before the Christian era. These conclusions are based on cultural, morphological and genetic similarities between the populations of America and Asia.

The frozen sea between the two Diomedes
The frozen sea between the two Diomedes

The Diomede Islands were discovered in 1728 by danish navigator Vitus Bering – after which the strait was later named – while serving in the Russian Navy. The discovery was made on August 16, the day the Russian Orthodox Church remembers Saint Diomedes. Hence the name of the islands.

When The United States purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867. for the ridiculous price of what would be today the equivalent of 140 million dollarsit was established that the border would pass through the middle of the two islands, a line that in times of the cold war came to be called the “ice curtain”

But the population of Little Diomedes, belonging to the tribe inupiaq, dreams of reuniting with his relatives on the other side. Robert Soolook, another tribal leader, was part of an expedition four years ago that traveled through Chukotka province, on the east coast of Siberia, in search of lost relatives.

“With skis and dog sledding, we covered about 30 kilometers a day and went to 16 towns”Soolook recalled in a recent journalistic interview. “I found relatives on my mother’s side in three villages, and her favorite cousin, Luda, was in Uelen. She was very special. She was with family again.”

The houses where the 90 inhabitants of Little Diomedes live
The houses where the 90 inhabitants of Little Diomedes liveRichard Brahman

Soolook’s little house is perched on the side of the cliff, just below Ozenna’s. There are no roads or vehicles on the island. All the houses are connected with walkways and steps. 17 boys are enrolled in the local school, there is a general supply store and a post office. It is all that can be seen in Diomedes. Life there is hard: nine months of winter, with temperatures below zero and strong winds.

Ozenna treasures her traditional Inupiaq culture and loves to collect vegetables, eskimo potatoes, beach cabbage and salmonberries, a kind of raspberry that grows on the cliffs of the island. As a tribal coordinator, she is also responsible for passing on the teachings she received from her ancestors, such as fermentation, sewing leather canoes like her mother did, and helping hunters identify whether captured animals are safe to eat or No.

The war in the Ukraine?… I don’t know what to say to him”, confessed Ozenna to LA NACION. “What I can tell you is that if we could start reunification with our relatives in Russia, it would bring us a lot of peace of mind. Russia is for us within sight. But it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen any time soon. For now, our island does not worry the world too much, more than for the occasional warning shot fired from the Russian base. So we are not very interested in what happens out there, “he concluded.

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