I was born in the USSR in 1990, in the city of Tiraspol, then part of the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic. As the Soviet Union broke up, Moldova became an independent state, but the small section known as Transnistria, where Russian is the dominant language and pro-Russian sentiment prevails, sought to break away. A military conflict followed, ended by a ceasefire. For the past twenty-four years — all of my life — the people of Transnistria, a region spanning approximately 125 by twenty miles, have lived in a frozen state, members of a country that, for the rest of the world, does not exist.
For the past quarter-century we have grown up singing a national anthem and saluting a flag that is unrecognized by all states except nearby Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia. Our passports and currency are not accepted internationally. Russian remains the financial and political patron of Transnistria, and many people are able to work in Russia and send money back to their families here. But we are also influenced by our other neighbors. From my window on the seventh floor of a building in the center of Tiraspol, Ukraine is visible, and in the other direction I can see Moldova — the country we are technically considered part of, even though Transnistria has voted to enter Russia.
Western photographers visiting Transnistria often show the country as a museum of Soviet symbols, focusing on the pro-Russian icons and statues of Lenin. Instead, I wanted to show Transnistria from the point of view of a person for whom this territory has always been a motherland. Many in the older generation still fondly recall and celebrate the Soviet period, a time of prosperity in the villages here, when agriculture provided many jobs. For the generation coming of age today, we have only known this one reality. We grew up in a melting pot of Moldovan, Ukrainian and Russian influence, and don’t separate based on ethnic affiliation. Many of us are apolitical, and while most people of my age consider themselves Transnistrians, the weak economy and political limbo compel many of us to head abroad for work after graduation. We remain a conglomerate of cultures, yet also a culture all our own.
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Anton Polyakov is freelance photographer and graduate of Transnistrian State University who is currently working on a long-term project about Transnistria.
Read more about Anton’s Transnistrian Conglomerate project at FeatureShoot.com