Along with Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia, Transnistria is one of those breakaway regions in the former Soviet Union that has de facto independence but limited international recognition. It’s officially part of Moldova but has been independent since 1992. It has its own currency, its own government, and its own passports.
Outsiders who visit Transnistria and especially its capital, Tiraspol, have said that it’s like stepping back in time to the days of the Soviet Union. There are still monuments to Lenin all around Tiraspol, and the hammer and sickle are on Transnistria’s official emblem and flag. I was interested in seeing how different or similar Tiraspol was to Chisinau (Kishinev) and other places I’d been to in the former USSR.
I took a bus from Kishinev to Tiraspol, and I was the only non-Moldovan or non-Transnistrian on the bus. The trip took about two hours, including about half an hour at the border. There have been traveler tales in the past of needing to bribe border guards to let you in or out of Transnistria, but I had no problems. I hopped out of the bus when it arrived at the main thoroughfare of Tiraspol, 25th of October Street (named for the day that the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 kicked off). Along this road are various patriotic monuments, parks, and buildings, many of which glorify the bygone days of communism.
Honestly, Tiraspol didn’t feel all that different from Kishinev, except in 3 aspects:
- As I said, there were more monuments to and reminders of the communist past.
- There were fewer cars and less traffic.
- Nothing was written in English.
That third point was especially striking to me. Wherever I’ve gone in the world, there have been signs in English. In China, Mexico, Ukraine—there are always at least some signs in English or at least in Latin characters (like pinyin in China, for example). I don’t think I saw a single one in Tiraspol. I’m guessing that’s how it must have been during Soviet times, and it was really interesting. There are actually three official languages of Transnistria: Russian, Ukrainian, and Moldovan (which is Romanian written in cyrillic, the same alphabet that Russian and Ukrainian use). The vast majority of what I saw written on buildings and signs and stuff was Russian (which contrasts sharply to Kishinev, where nearly everything is in Romanian). A couple things were in Ukrainaian, and I don’t thing I saw anything in Moldovan (except for a couple things on government buildings). As far as what people were speaking, I heard only Russian.
I spent a couple hours wandering around Tiraspol before seeing everything that I wanted to see and getting on a bus back to Kishinev. I still have some Transnistrian rubles, which are literally worthless outside of Transnistria because no one recognizes Transnistrian rubles as a currency.