Inside a country that doesn’t exist on a map

Majid Alhinai | United Arab Emirates | 27.11.2018

Nothing around me was familiar. I had just spent two hours in a car with a Moldovan man who only spoke one word of English and had the song “Gangnam Style” on repeat. Now I was facing a man dressed in clothes that closely resembled a Soviet Union military uniform. But nothing around me should've felt familiar, because I was entering a technically non-existent country.

 

Transnistria – officially known as the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic – has its own currency, its own flag, its own government and president. It declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991; however, none of the United Nations’ member states recognize it as a country. Nestled between the Ukraine and Moldova, the UN considers it to be part of the latter.

 

I had coincidentally found out about this semblance of a country through my readings on the history and geography of Eastern Europe. Curious, I jumped on the next plane to Moldova (Chișinău International Airport in Moldova is the closest to Transnistria) and hired a driver and car to take me there.

 

My visa – literally a paper receipt – was given to me at the Transnistrian border by the man dressed in a Soviet-like military uniform. It allowed me to stay for a mere 24 hours. I only needed six.

 

 

Transnistria is a little more than a quarter of the size of Kuwait, and there is not much to do. It's not even picturesque (trust me, I tried all angles, and none of the photos turned out remotely satisfactory to me). I can only describe it as peculiar.

 

The cars and buildings of Tiraspol, Transnistria’s capital city, seemed to have been spit out from the 1970s. The majority, if not all, of the shops I saw or visited – from the supermarkets and petrol stations to money exchanges – are all owned by a single company called Sherriff, which it turns out, is owned by an ex-KGB agent. The Transnistrian Rubbles, vibrant in colour and made out of plastic, felt as real as Monopoly money. It seemed that all the Transnistrian people I saw were thin. But then again, Transnistria has no fast food restaurants!

 

 

Being the only tan man in a sea of white complexions invited many of the locals to approach me. Though neither of us could understand the language of the other, the people were just as friendly as they were curious.

 

But hey, you don't have to take my word for it! Next time you find yourself in Eastern Europe, head over to Transnistria, and be one of the few tourists that have visited a country that doesn't technically exist!

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