During our trip through Eastern Europe we also planned to visit Ukraine, so we travelled through Transnistria also called Transdniestr, a self-declared country consisting of a narrow strip of land (3500 sq km) that is situated between Moldova and Ukraine along the Dniestr river. With Russian support, Transnistria won its „independence“ during a bloody civil war in the early 1990s. The country has its own currency, police force, army and borders, controlled by Transnistrian border guards – but it is neither recognized by Moldova nor by any other country in the world!
Although we found a lot of warnings on Internet about Transnistrian officials exorting bribes from travelers, we decided to pass the border at Rezina and passed the Dniestr bridge at Rybnitsa, where we were welcomed“ by a group of suspicious border guards. At the migration office we had to fill in some complicated forms in Russian and the atmosphere was rather tense. Many vehicles and trucks were passing the border, but no foreign tourists at all. Finally, after more than an hour, the administrative procedures were concluded and after having paid 15 Euro for a two-day stay, we were allowed to enter this surreal country.
The distance to Tiraspol, the capital of Transnistria, was 120 km. We traveled on good paved roads with hardly any traffic and on our way we could see the symbols of the old Soviet system: hammers and sickles, communist red stars and Lenin sculptures, Russian tanks and war monuments from the period of social realism.
The villages we saw were similar to the villages in Moldova, but their poverty was obvious and many people worked on the land in a kind of cooperative system. „Kvass“ (a fermented beverage made of rye bread) was stored in trailers along the road.
Arriving in Tiraspol, we had to find a place to sleep. Of course, there were no camping sites and parking at a petrol station was not allowed. Fortunately, we found a friendly policeman who spoke some English and he finally sent us to a guarded parking lot in-between some big concrete Soviet buildings where we spent the night.
Sightseeing was rather disappointing: nevertheless, Tiraspol is a memorable place. We walked around among a surprising mix of Lenin monuments, Putin’s pictures, governmental buildings and huge concrete residential silos in Soviet style. But it was clear that this veritable Lenin-loving theme park is starting to show some capitalist cracks, as we could also see modern glass facades and expensive 4WDs. Questionable business transactions on elite level seem to widen the gap between the rich and the poor.
With the help of a well-educated young lady we met on the street, we found an extraordinary national restaurant, called “Kumanek” with excellent food and service. Although the prices were low for us, I am sure that only a few Transnistrians can enjoy dinner at this place.
Next morning we continued our trip to Odessa At the border crossing, it took a lot of nerves to get rid of the corrupted border officials who claimed that we entered Transnistria illegally, as we did not have a Moldovian exit stamp in our passports. Of course, there was no exit stamp, as Moldova does not recognize Transnistria as an independent state! The “fine” for this so-called „offense“ turned out to be 20 € per person. Of course, we paid the bribe – as we did not want to lose our precious time.
Honestly speaking, we enjoyed the experience of seeing Transnistria, but I am sure that we will not visit this “state” for a second time. Unless they stop the bribe shakedown, Transnistria will remain a “country” with zero tourism!