Transnistria, a country that needs to take itself super seriously because no one else does. A country that isn’t really a country, still stuck in the time of the USSR you are instantly transported back to the times of the Soviet Union. With large wide open squares, wide roads, impressive monuments and a TV screen in the middle of the main square playing clips from World War 2, I couldn’t help but feel like I had some how stumbled across a district from the Hunger Games.
A small strip of land wedged between Moldova and Ukraine, it declared independence in 1990 after the dissolution of the USSR. It is home to around 500,000 residents, many with roots and ties to Russia who felt political and culturally isolated after the collapse of the USSR.
This resulted in a conflict and war in 1992 with Moldova, followed by a ceasefire in the July the same year. It is a de facto independent presidential republic with its own government, parliament, military, police, postal system and fake looking currency. It has a constitution, flag (often flown proudly next to the Russian flag), national anthem and coat of arms bearing the Soviet hammer and sickle. Its love and longing to be part of Russia, who heavily support the non-country with free gas, is a huge contrast to the rest of Moldova, where there’s talk of joining back into Romania.
– TV screen playing WW2 clips
Entering from Moldova, we hitched a ride across the ‘border’ with a Moldavian man who kept making jokes and poking fun at the ‘countries’ policies. We had our car pulled aside and our bags completely strip searched, were ordered to present all cameras and finally once they realised we weren’t spies or documentary makers we were aloud in. We were then given an entry slip that we had to get signed with our hotel in order to be aloud to stay longer than just ten hours in the ‘country’.
Being our unorganised, useless lazy selves we had no accommodation organised and planned to find a cheap backpackers once we arrived. Our original thought of camping was out the window because of this registration issue. We had already been in trouble in Belarus for not registering in time and I wasn’t planning on reliving that experience. We assumed accommodation would be cheap, as we read online backpackers are about $5AUD, and it was technically part of Moldova, the poorest country in Europe.
Turns out, accommodation is not cheap it is ridiculously expensive. There was nothing for under 50euros a night so we found ourselves stuck in a local restaurant franticly searching the internet for a place to stay.
As it grew later into the night and we became more and more desperate, we turned to the friendly wait staff for help. They called around a few hotels asking prices, all gobsmacked by the price to stay in their ‘country’.
The quietest of the group, a young friendly waiter, offered for us to stay the night at his place for 10USD. We were so grateful for him, and as soon as his shift ended he took us back to his place. The only problem with this was we couldn’t register, and again we found ourselves in trouble.
Postponing our problem, the next day we wondered the streets of Transnistria. Vast similarities to Belarus and what I can only imagine Russia caught me attention. The strangest thing was the large TV screen in the middle of the square that reminded me of the Hunger Games, showing images of the Capital.
The ‘country’ itself doesn’t have much to offer, and walking around there isn’t much to see. The coolest part of the country is the money, weird colourful, strangely shaped tarzo looking coins. It soon became our mission to collect them all. The people of Transnistria are very patriotic and pro Russia, common merchandise sold depicts images of Stalin and Lennon who’s faces you can even buy on t-shirts.
That afternoon, after a day of exploring the capital, we jumped on a bus to head backwards to the capital of Moldova. I was nervous about crossing the ‘border’ back into Moldova, as we hadn’t been registered and overstayed our ‘visa’. At the heavily guarded border control, we were pulled over and Tyral was asked to step out. Luckily for me, he had no interest in me and I was left alone in the bus with confused Moldavians asking me questions I couldn’t understand.
The guy who ‘interrogated’ Tyral, couldn’t wipe the smile off his face because he knew he was about to get a pay off. He stared telling Tyral ‘problem, problem’ shaking his head. Tyral played along with it acting confused to what we had done.
‘Problem Tyral, Problem,’ he said tapping the registration paper.
We were ordered to head back to town and go to the police station and withdrawal money. This was obviously never going to happen. ‘I can’t do that,’ Tyral replied.
The officer, pretending to be concerned by this, scratched his chin and thought for a second.
‘Okay okay, you pay fine and give me small present, and everything is okay,’ he said.
Tyral laughed, emptying his wallet to show the little money we had. The officer wasn’t pleased, it wasn’t enough. ‘Not good Tyral, not enough.’
Remembering the $10AUD he had been carrying around with him for almost two years, he ran back to the bus.
‘Good currency,’ he lied, ‘the same as American Dollar, same!’ he encouraged.
He was happy at this, pocketed it along with the left of Transnistrian money, a few American Dollars and we were on our way, no problem.