Coming from: Hagimus, Moldova
Going to: Bendery, Transnistria
Documents needed: Passport
Waiting time: none (Moldova), 10 min (Transnistria)
Distance from Bern: 2518 km
Crossed on 05/06/2017, 11:19 a.m.
Transnistria is a de facto independent state which has separated from Moldova in 1991 and acted as a sovereign nation since then. Transnistria has its own passports, money, laws and obviously also borders. Like Gagauzia, it has a tendency to lean towards Moscow. Western media describe the place as an “open air museum of Socialism”, a “last reminder of the Soviet Union” or even as “post-apocalyptic”. Transnistria has acquired that questionable fame for keeping all Soviet symbols and adding its own political propaganda. So Lenin statues and the hammer & sickle are still very present. And Western journalists eagerly jump on that.
But Transnistria is not socialist and even less post-apocalyptic. In fact, it resembles most other post-Soviet countries, having developed quite a bit in the recent years. There are now many good restaurants in Tiraspol, the capital – and even a hipster café. The pro-independence propaganda is still there, but it has diminished. And the situation at the borders has become more transparent for foreign travellers.
Years ago, travelling from Moldova to Transnistria was an adventure. Once, in 2007, I have even been denied entry into its territory: I was travelling late in the evening from Chişinău to Tiraspol. The border guards wanted to see either a direct onward ticket to Ukraine or an invitation letter from Transnistria, and I had neither. In fact, they rather wanted to see some bribes, but I did not feel like that. So I went back to Chişinău. At that time, foreigners were only issued a 10 hour transit slip, and bribes and rip-offs were common. Those who wanted to stay longer had to register themselves at the Visa and Migration Department, a bureaucratic nightmare which took up to half a day.
Now that situation has changed a lot. Instead of the transit slip, all foreigners are issued a “migration card”. The holder has the right to stay on Transnistrian territory for exactly 24 hours – the card mentions the exact day, hour, minute and second (!) of the latest possible exit. Furthermore, it is printed in Russian and in English, unlike the mysterious transit slip. Just its quality is questionable: It is a simple receipt, and unfortunately they still do no passport stamps.
I entered Transnistria on a bus coming from Comrat in Gagauzia. Here, the border is located at the Southern city limit of Bendery, Transnistria’s only city on the West side of River Dniestr. The suburb of Hagimus is still under Moldovan control, and a soldier left the bus there. It was strange to imagine that he was going to a front line, which the rest of the bus passengers were about to cross. On the Moldovan side, there is a border post called “vama interna” (internal customs), but they almost never check – after all, they do not consider the border to Transnistria an international border. The Transnistrians did, but their check was a mere routine: I had to leave the bus and show the passport. It was scanned, the migration card was printed. That was it, no questions at all.
It is good to see that even in this place, normalcy prevails meanwhile. On the other side it is a pity that one of the very few adventurous destinations within Europe has become so easy to handle. For those seeking a real border adventure in Europe, new opportunities have opened up at front line between Ukraine and the separatist areas of Donetsk and Luhansk. To anticipate: I did not go there.
Transnistrian border check at the outskirts of Bendery
Tiraspol is prepared for the tourist’s selfies
Monument to Transnistria’s currency, the Pridnestrovian Ruble (RUP). The 5 Ruble bill is one of the few banknotes worldwide which includes advertisement: For KVINT, the local cognac factory.
Embassies of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two other unrecognized nations – at least they recognize each other!
City beach of Tiraspol
Lenin statue in front of Transnistria’s parliament