Dima walks across a cornfield to weed his vegetable patch in Hristovaia village. Young people in the countryside are involved in the household from an early age, and they work as hard as adults. Dima grew up in Hristovaia, mainly in the care of his grandparents. His parents work outside Transnistria. This is a fairly typical example of labor migration and depopulation of rural areas for Transnistria. Dima has since left his native village to work in Moscow. (Anton Polyakov and Anya Galatonova) Yura and his girlfriend, Tania, right corner, at a goodbye party in Rotar village held for Yura’s recruitment into the army. Young people organize a farewell party before they go to the army for a year, a very important event for the village. Usually all of the youths from the village attend. Some have already experienced their year in the army, but for others the time is yet to come. (Anton Polyakov and Anya Galatonova)
In the early 1990s, when the Soviet Union was about to collapse and Moldova proclaimed its independence, one of the regions of the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic decided to stray. The self-proclaimed Republic of Transnistria is an approximately 125-mile-long sliver of territory along the left bank of the Dniester River running between Moldova and Ukraine.
For 27 years, the republic has had a disputed status, and yet a whole generation identifies as “Transnistrians.” Only the unrecognized republics of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh acknowledge Transnistrian independence.
The republic faces more challenges than its unrecognized status, however. Its villages are dying out because of an exodus of young people. At first look in the rural north, it seems as if they have an idyllic life in the midst of hills covered in thick woods. They have a close relation to the soil, nature and farm life, they are used to hard labor and love their native land.
However, there are very few paid jobs, little entertainment and sparse growth opportunities. Many people are forced to abandon their traditional way of life and break the link with the place where they were born. They move to the cities or abroad. At some point, young people have to choose: Stay in the village or leave their home to look for a better life.
For residents of Hristovaia village who own at least one cow, there is a rule about taking turns herding the common herd. (Anton Polyakov and Anya Galatonova) Maxim, left, and Vasya, with Maxim’s horses in Rotar village, including a recently born foal. Horses are very important in a rural lifestyle, and are mostly used as a means of transportation. (Anton Polyakov and Anya Galatonova) Vasya, left, and his friend roast sausages over a fire on his birthday in Rotar village. Young people often celebrate the most important events in their life while out in nature. (Anton Polyakov and Anya Galatonova) In the countryside, Soviet-era motor vehicles are still used, often lasting 30 to 40 years. Since there are few paved roads in the countryside, such old cars and motorcycles are well adapted for off-road use. From an early age, boys learn to repair them on their own. Long before obtaining a driver’s license, they are already good at driving tractors, motorcycles and cars. (Anton Polyakov and Anya Galatonova) During the holidays, many young people return to their native villages from the cities where they study and work. In Rotar, there are very few girls. Boys have to travel to neighboring villages, where more girls live, to get acquainted and seek relationships. (Anton Polyakov and Anya Galatonova) Rotar boys use an old bus as a secret meeting spot. (Anton Polyakov and Anya Galatonova) Among rural men, mutual assistance is very important. Many young people help their neighbors in the village, free of charge. (Anton Polyakov and Anya Galatonova) Middle school graduation day in Rotar. The graduating class has only three students. Unlike in city schools, in the villages, children have no option to go to high school as the number of children in rural areas is too low. (Anton Polyakov and Anya Galatonova) Yura and Aliosha attend a birthday party of a friend in Hristovaia. There is a Transnistrian flag visible. It is identical to the flag of the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic. (Anton Polyakov and Anya Galatonova) A room for meetings in one of the military areas of the Bender City. Sasha was born and raised in Hristovaia, and at age 21, he decided to interrupt his studies and was drafted into the Transnistrian army. He says: “My dreams are pretty simple and banal: I want to be happy, to have a profitable job, to achieve financial independence. After my military service, I plan to finish my studies, to rent an apartment and to find a job for the first time, nothing special. To be honest, I did not think this is where I would live permanently. I thought about Europe, Canada, but there is so much to be done for this. The army for me is wasted time. Actually, there are some positive aspects: I became stronger both physically and morally, learned a lot about people, began to appreciate my time and my loved ones.” (Anton Polyakov and Anya Galatonova) The northernmost settlement of Transnistria is Grushka village. This is the only bar in the village. Other villages don’t have a bar, so men from surrounding villages come to Grushka’s bar in the evening. Most villages have no places for leisure, so joint workouts or sitting in bars is an opportunity to relax and hang out with each other. (Anton Polyakov and Anya Galatonova) All his life, Yura, 21, lived with his parents in Hristovaia. He dreams about serving in the army and then working in military structures, but because of health problems, he has to stay in the village and seek another path. For many young men, the army is the only way to start a life outside the village. (Anton Polyakov and Anya Galatonova) From an early age, Vasya helped his parents around the house, and worked after school as a watchman for dilapidated agricultural enterprises, making about $50 per month. His elder sister left home long before to start a new life in Kiev. Now he and his mother work on the farm, and occasionally Vasya goes to work in Kiev, where he works with his sister in a pizza restaurant. Despite the fact that there are no special prospects in his village, Vasya never complains, and he loves the village for its beauty. (Anton Polyakov and Anya Galatonova)
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