Journey to the East II. From Odesa to a country that doesn’t exist

Journey to the East II.

From Odesa to a country that doesn't exist

Have you ever heard about a European country that proudly refers to the legacy of the Soviet Union? And has a sickle and a hammer in its flag? I am talking about Transnistria, a narrow strip of land between Moldova and Ukraine. I headed here from Ukrainian Odesa, and along the way, I stopped in the capital of Moldova.

Ukrainian beaches and Moldovan concrete

Odessa is a stunning port city founded by Empress Catherine the Great. It’s very different from anything in Ukraine. And the main reason isn’t just beautiful beaches and many cultures that mix in this city. You won’t find as much Soviet monumentality here as in other cities. The central part is full of low houses from the 19th century. The best times of those buildings are over, but you can still admire many small untouched details. Moreover, they hide fascinating courtyards that are the tiny worlds on their own.

In the Moldovan capital, Chisinau, you won’t find much history. What didn’t destroy a strong earthquake in 1940, was done by the Nazi bombs. The city was rebuilt in the Soviet-style and today is considered as one the ugliest cities in Europe. However, I like the heavy brutalist shapes combined with the colorful mosaics. And also plenty of green spaces everywhere around.

State – not state Transnistria

From Chisinau, I got to the Transnistrian Tiraspol without any problems. Until recently, foreigners were strictly controlled and allowed to enter for only a few hours. That has changed and I even managed to sleep in Tiraspol via Couchsurfing. My host, Bogdan, was a student at a local university eager to move to Western Europe. He was waiting for Moldovan citizenship at that time. With a Transnistrian passport, no one let him cross any border.

Transnistria is probably the most bizarre country I have ever visited. If I can talk about the country at all. Because de jure it doesn’t exist. It’s not recognized by any country, not even its main supporter – Russia. It’s recognized only by other independent and unrecognized states (South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Nagorno-Karabakh). Originally, the territory was part of the Moldovan SSR. After the fall of the Soviet Union, with the help of the Russian army, it violently broke away and declared independence. 2,000 Russian soldiers still oversee “peace” here.

This country has its parliament, anthem, flag, citizenship, and currency. In the capital, Tiraspol, you will find the SHERIFF brand at every turn. The owner of this holding is a local businessman who owns almost everything – a network of supermarkets, gas stations, television, newspapers, and even a famous football club.

Busts of Marx, Lenin, and even Stalin will strike you on almost every street. If you are strolling the very center of Tiraspol, you will find a pleasant town with lots of greenery. But as soon as you turn on the outskirts, or even to the neighboring town of Bender, you will discover a completely different reality.