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.

Alexander Veryovkin, a famous Soviet footballer, on a bus in the city of Tiraspol. The bus is Number 19, named for June 19, the day the conflict began between Moldova and Transnistria.
Alexander Veryovkin, a famous Soviet footballer, on a bus in the city of Tiraspol. The bus is Number 19, named for June 19, the day the conflict began between Moldova and Transnistria.

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.

A neighborhood called Sunny, located on the outskirts of the city Bendery. In the Soviet era there was a large recreation area and amusement park, which now stands abandoned.
A neighborhood called Sunny, located on the outskirts of the city Bendery. In the Soviet era there was a large recreation area and amusement park, which now stands abandoned.
On February 23rd each year, Transnistria celebrates Soviet Army Day. The paramilitary show and competition among different units are part of the big event, which takes place every year in the Republican Stadium within Tiraspol, the capital of Transnistria.
On February 23rd each year, Transnistria celebrates Soviet Army Day. The paramilitary show and competition among different units are part of the big event, which takes place every year in the Republican Stadium within Tiraspol, the capital of Transnistria.
A health clinic in Tiraspol. Many health and social assistance institutions haven’t changed since the Soviet times and have only been partially repaired since then. Last year, however, Transnistria implemented a program of building new clinics, schools and kindergartens with monetary assistance from both Russia and Europe.
A health clinic in Tiraspol. Many health and social assistance institutions haven’t changed since the Soviet times and have only been partially repaired since then. Last year, however, Transnistria implemented a program of building new clinics, schools and kindergartens with monetary assistance from both Russia and Europe.

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.

A “pleasure boat” on the river Dniester, near the city of Tiraspol -- a popular pastime for residents during the summer.
A “pleasure boat” on the river Dniester, near the city of Tiraspol — a popular pastime for residents during the summer.
The Open Bodybuilding Championship in Tiraspol. Youth culture in Transnistria is developed mainly in the big cities, like Tiraspol, Bender and Rîbnița. Often the culture is associated with sports, like body-building, which can be practiced on the athletic fields and stadiums that remained after the Soviet period.
The Open Bodybuilding Championship in Tiraspol. Youth culture in Transnistria is developed mainly in the big cities, like Tiraspol, Bender and Rîbnița. Often the culture is associated with sports, like body-building, which can be practiced on the athletic fields and stadiums that remained after the Soviet period.
A contestant at the Open Bodybuilding Championship in Tiraspol.
A contestant at the Open Bodybuilding Championship in Tiraspol.
Children play on a statue of the Russian General Alexander Suvorov in Tiraspol. In the eighteenth century, his efforts ensured that Transnistria became a part of the Russian Empire.
Children play on a statue of the Russian General Alexander Suvorov in Tiraspol. In the eighteenth century, his efforts ensured that Transnistria became a part of the Russian Empire.
Children play in the city of Grigoriopol.
Children play in the city of Grigoriopol.
Overlooking the village of Hristovaia.
Overlooking the village of Hristovaia.
I met Maxim in the village of Hrușca. Later I became close to his family. Maxim’s life is linked with the Dniester River near his home, where his mother drowned. Today he grazes goats here, goes fishing and swims in the same river.
I met Maxim in the village of Hrușca. Later I became close to his family. Maxim’s life is linked with the Dniester River near his home, where his mother drowned. Today he grazes goats here, goes fishing and swims in the same river.
The village of Cioburciu is situated in the South of Transnistria. In the Soviet era it was a large and developed village; today it is sleepier.
The village of Cioburciu is situated in the South of Transnistria. In the Soviet era it was a large and developed village; today it is sleepier.
Arina, who lives in the Moldovan part of Cioburciu, talks on Skype with her mother, who is working in Russia.
Arina, who lives in the Moldovan part of Cioburciu, talks on Skype with her mother, who is working in Russia.
Arina is reunited with her mother after not seeing one another for almost a year.
Arina is reunited with her mother after not seeing one another for almost a year.
The reunion of Arina and her mother in Cioburciu.
The reunion of Arina and her mother in Cioburciu.

* * *

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