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WHO IS BEYOND THE RIVER - Unveiling the Soviet Separatist Region of Transnistria
Transnistria, Moldova, March 2022
The Separatist Republic of Transistria and Moldova (PMR, from the Russian Moldovan Republic of Pridniestrovie) is a thin strip of land located across the Nistrus River, as its name indicates. In 1990, in the climate of confusion and geopolitical remodelling that anticipated and accompanied the collapse of the Soviet Union, this small region decided to definitively split from Moldova, a country of which it had always been a part and of which it began to fear nationalist politics. However, this declaration of independence was ignored and for the next two years the tensions between the two sides continued to escalate, resulting in a brief but bloody conflict whose painful scars still remain in the memory of the participants.
Scars made of incommunicability, mistrust, mutual incomprehension. But above all, fear: the intervention of the Russian 14th Army had turned the tide of the 1992 war in favour of the separatist region and, once the conflict was over, said army decided to settle permanently in the Transnistrian territory as a "peacekeeping" force.
In the following years, the Russification process of the PMR was constant and meticulous under the watchful eye of the Russian Federation itself. However, as soon as you set foot in the capital Tiraspol, the first sensation is that of having made a leap into the past: statues and monuments in honour of the great names of the Revolution (Lenin in primis), Soviet tanks converted to patriotic memorabilia on display in the cities, their own currency, only newspaper and Russian tv channels, the Russian language spoken by the whole population, and the complete rejection of the latin alphabet in favour of the cyrillic one. Everything seems to betray a not too veiled nostalgia for the Soviet period, rather than an attempt to get closer to the customs of modern Russia.
Today there is a delicate balance between Moldova and Transnistria, very close yet divided by a split thirty years deep. The two look at each other with distrust, but without communicating. Due to the lack of information, very little is known about what is happening beyond the Nistrus. Journalist and photographer need a special permit to work in the region and enter the country with photographic equipment is denied. There are no available, updated data about the army, its equipments and its intention. According to the local Transnistrian population, this ignorance feeds unjustified rumours.
With the outbreak of the invasion in Ukraine, the suspicion and shadow of the Transnistrian reaction have only grown larger, not only on the Moldovan side: in Ukrainian territory, a railway bridge connecting the country to the PMR was blown up for preventive purposes. Clearly out of fear of that Russian army whose peacekeeping task no one really trusts.
Who is beyond the river? What happens in Transnistria? What do they think about what's going on in the neighbouring countries, and what do they want to do about it? These are the questions that have been posed to the citizens of this Separatist Republic that formally does not exist. Simple people who inhabit the vast cultivated plains of a land that perhaps just wants to be left alone, but which in the meantime is observed with concern by those around them.
Due to the restrictions applied to the media, all the material collected inside the Separatist Republic of Transnistria was done by mobile phones.