Visiting Transnistria was one of my main goals during my time in Moldova. But what or where is Transnistria and why is it unique?
Transnistria, also known as Transdniestr and Transdniestria, is the region located between the Dniester River in Moldova and the western border of Ukraine as this image from Britannica.com shows.
When individual Soviet states were given increasing autonomy in 1980s, the Slavic population of the Moldovan SSR felt threatened by pro-Romanian nationalist sentiment. This led to Transnistria declaring itself a soviet republic in 1990. Military action followed in 1992 between the newly independent Moldova and Transnistria. The ceasefire brokered later that year stills stand.
The UN considers Transnistria part of Moldova. No UN member recognises Transnistria. Russia has links to Transnistria including a peacekeeping presence in the region. Transnistria has its own government so is not under Moldovan government control. Transnistria also has its own flag, security forces, and currency (Transnistria Ruble). Its flag features the hammer and sickle emblem. The city of Tiraspol acts as the capital of Transnistria.
DAY TRIP TO TRANSNISTRIA FROM CHISINAU
I visited Tiraspol as a day trip from Chisinau. I travelled by public minibus (marshrutka) from the chaotic bus station behind the Central Market (Piata Centrale) in Chisinau. The Tiraspol marshrutkas leave from Stand 13. Tickets have to be purchased from the ticket office beside Stand 13 and are available on a one-way basis only. My ticket cost 36.50 Moldovan Lei (€1.90), an absolute steal for a journey of almost 2 hours.
In keeping with its breakaway status, Transnistria has a hard border. The marshrutka slowed at two checkpoints, coming to a complete stop on the third. A young border guard entered the bus to check passports.
The four non-Transnistrian passengers (me included) were ordered off the bus and into a cabin where, to my surprise, the border guards spoke English quite well. I was asked what my purpose for visiting Transnistria was and how long was I intending to stay. As I was only doing a day trip to Transnistria, I was asked if a 10-hour Migration Card would suffice. Upon obtaining the Migration Card, I was told that I had to hold onto it until I departed Transnistria. I then boarded the bus and we continued our journey. The border stop took approximately ten minutes.
Less than an hour later, the bus arrived at the bus terminus in Tiraspol adjacent to the railway station.
Transnistria’s currency is closed, so unavailable outside of the region. However, there are exchange offices at the bus station and along the main street (25th October Street – ul 25 Oktober). Euros, Russian Rubles, Ukrainian Hryvnia and Moldovan Lei were all accepted for exchange. At the time of my visit, 1 Moldovan Leu = 0.894 Transnistrian Rubles.
I walked a couple of minutes along Lenin Street (ul Lenina) with Kirov Park to my right and the Kvint brandy factory to my left. On reaching ul 25 Oktober I swung a right and meandered as far west as the Presidential Palace.
Across the road from the Presidential Palace is possibly the most-photographed site in Tiraspol – a military tank on a raised platform. The park beside the tank is a lovely spot for a picnic.
On the Presidential Palace side of Ul 25 Oktober lies a monument to Alexander Suvorov, a Russian military hero.
The section of Ul 25 Oktober between the ul Lenina junction and the Presidential Palace has a variety of shops and restaurants but an overwhelming amount of banks. I meandered around the streets both north and south of this section. These streets are quiet but their footpaths were uneven.
I continued towards the east end of ul 25 Oktober as far as the Drama Theatre and the University. Along the way I saw the impressive City Hall with its Stalinist architecture and its brilliant white paint.
More meandering around this area brought me back to ul Lenina where I returned to the bus station. My one-way marshrutka ticket to Chisinau cost 44.65 Transnistrian Rubles, converting into 49.94 Moldovan Lei, a slightly more expensive journey than the outbound from Chisinau.
The border check on the return journey was much quicker, with the border guard boarding the bus and quickly checking all passports and migration cards.
My day trip to Transnistria was a relaxing day of sightseeing. Locals were friendly and helpful. As someone with an interest in history, I found Transnistria’s nod to its soviet past a fascinating experience.
PRACTICAL ADVICE FOR VISITING TRANSNISTRIA
Can I stay in Transnistria longer than 10 hours? Yes, I’ve heard it’s possible. But as I’ve read differing reports on this subject I cannot give a 100% definitive answer on how to go about it.
Is it possible to cross into Transnistria directly from Ukraine? Yes, this is possible. However, it will cause problems when exiting Moldova as the Moldovan authorities do not recognise the Transnistrian border with Ukraine. I travelled to Chisinau, Moldova by direct bus from Odesa, Ukraine. I specifically asked for a bus that travelled via Palanca, therefore crossing directly into Moldova.
Is consular assistance available from my government in Transnistria? That depends on your government but as an Irish/EU citizen the DFA website stated the following: The capacities of Irish or EU consular services to intervene may be limited. Nevertheless, I carried the phone numbers of my local parliamentary representatives with me, just in case.
What language is spoken in Transnistria? The official languages are Russian, Moldovan and Ukrainian. But from what I could see, on signs and menus, Russian written in Cyrillic was the predominant language. A few people were able to speak English and were delighted to practice with me.
Is Transnistria safe? I travelled to Transnistria solo and felt safe at all times. Everyone was polite, helpful and welcoming.