Transnistria, also known as Trans Dniester (TCC List) and Pridnestrovie (Russian), is a breakaway territory within the internationally recognized borders of Moldova. Although not recognized by any state or international organization and a part of Moldova, it is de facto an independent state called the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic. Although the PMR does not have such legal status within Moldova, it functions like a state, and is organized as a republic.
Transnistria declared independence from Moldova, but within the Soviet Union on September 2, 1990, as the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic. This was declared void by then-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachov.
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, in March 1992, a war started in the region between Moldovan and Transnistrian separatist forces. In mid April 1992, in accordance with the agreements (or not) concerning the split of the military equipment of the former Soviet Union, negotiated between the former 15 republics in the previous months, Moldova created its own Defense Ministry.
Transnistria functions as a presidential republic, with its own government and parliament. Its authorities have adopted a constitution, flag, a national anthem, and a coat of arms. They organized a military and a police force. They have a postal system and stamps, although it is not internationally recognized and, apart from local mail, their stamps are of value only to collectors. Transnistrian institutions, like the state itself, have no international recognition. Basically it doesn’t officially exist.
My experience was a nerve racking and annoying hassle. Thankfully, when I left Odessa bound for Chisinau in Moldova I met a Moldovan woman, Asya, sitting next to me who spoke incredibly good English and of course perfect Russian. I was very happy because first, I had someone to talk to about the history of Moldova, Transnistria and the dissolution of the USSR and second, she would be able to help me navigate though the notoriously crooked Transnistrian border patrol.
There is a whole passport stamp issue that would take to long to explain but the bottom line is I didn’t have an entry stamp into Moldova because I was entering the country through Transnistria which of course doesn’t exist and isn’t a part of Moldova-so I had heard horror stories. When they saw my passport was American, they naturally pulled me aside and brought me in for questioning. Thankfully, Asya was able to do my arguing for me as she was incredibly firm and forthright yelling at the guards, telling them they should stop trying to shake down tourists because thats why nobody comes to Moldova, etc. It was brilliant to watch. Anyway, on the entry she saved me at least 50 Euro in bribe money which is all the guards are looking for anyway.
After making stops in the only two cities actually in Transnistria, including the almost non existent capital of Tiraspol, we made our way up to the exit border before entering Moldova. I knew there would be another attempted fleecing. When the guard boarded the bus and looked at passports, I was again escorted off the bus into a little room with a massive, mean looking Russian border guard. Once again, Asya stood up for me and got me off Scott free with her persistence and apparent uncanny arguing ability.
Once again, thanks Asya, I owe you big time for that. I know you are going to read this and good luck with your daughter and family and everything and I did make it through the Moldova/Romania without a problem (I had to contact the US Embassy to make sure I would be allowed to exit Moldova because I didn’t have an entry stamp in my passport, the US Embassy in Chisinau assured me repeatedly that I would be OK and just to show my Ukraine exit stamp from the same day, which I did and was fine).
After a few lovely hours in the tree lined streets of Chisinau, Moldova’s charming capital, another long day culminated with my overnight 14 hour train journey from Chisinau to Bucharest, Romania. I had been looking forward to this trip because I love the trains in Europe even though I knew I would have to endure the nightmarish 2 hour train wheel change at the Moldova/Romania border.
The old Soviet trains have wider wheels than the rest of Europe and rather than replace the tracks the decided, in all of their brilliance or cheapness, to invent a machine that takes forever to change the wheels while we just sit there and get jerked around in the middle of the night and can’t sleep.
The other major problem with this train was that it had no AC and no working windows. It was hell! It was so hot, and I even bought a first class ticket so I was only in the carriage with one other person but the entire train was just sweating profusely and it just reaked. It was the worst train ride of all time. I barely slept and have been assured by the ticket agent that on my next train to Bulgaria that the windows will work even though there is again, no AC…but we’ll see.