My Experience in Transnistria and Moldova

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.
tiraspol, transnistria
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.
tiraspol, transnistria map
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.

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  1. what’s up man. thought I would look you up and see where the world was taking you. good to see you’re still alive and on another adventure. you’re a freaking crazy bastard

  2. Hey man, good to hear from you. How is the new job and SC treating you. Dawgs should be good this year, Canes and Terps are looking shaky though. I\’ll give you a call when I get back to the States.

  3. You have CERTAINLY convinved me to fly in and out Chisinau from/to Bucharest! I will be following this short visit to Moldova with a 4-day hike in the Transylvanian Alps (to support a local orphanage) so I don’t need 14 hours of hot hell on wheels! lol

  4. Hi Lee, Your experience going through Trans Dneister came as no surprise. We had exactly the same problem the first time my Moldovan wife took me through there on the train to go from Chisinau to L’viv and back. They purposely didn’t visit our carriage on the way out to give us the stamped piece of paper,so they could catch us on the way back. Return tickets with a British passport and they were rubbing their hands with glee until my wife played merry hell up with them. They wanted 50 euros and ended up with 8 and she demanded the change and got it! They were going to throw just me off the train in a state that doesn’t exist with no passport! Never let them walk off with your passport and NEVER give them any money. We’ve been through a few times since and I’ve told them in no uncertain terms they are not getting any money from my family and stood firm and they’ve always backed down since. Knowing some Russian also helps a lot. If you want to create a money making scheme make a new border! To people thinking of going, don’t let this put you off. It certainly gives you some great stories to tell and Moldova is a great country with wonderful people,culture,food and drink.

  5. A real shit hole! Been there. Didn’t get any money from me, but really pissed me off! They are too dumb to realize that what they’re doing is bringing shame to their “country”. It’s just a gangster’s entity where the laws of the civilized world just don’t work. Pathetic and stupid!

  6. Hey, great essay on your experience. I was just thinking about doing some sort of trek from Ukraine to Moldova to Romania, but after reading several accounts of the nerve wracking show they give you, I will be sure not to go through this zone unless in the company of a native that can help talk (us) through it! I’ll go the long way, thanks ­čÖé

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