TRANSDNIESTER: stories east of the river

Stories East of the River is an intimate journey into the lives of the new generation growing up and negotiating their way in the little known and unrecognised country of Transdniester, the breakaway territory of Moldova in Eastern Europe.

Moldova is a landlocked country situated between Romania and Ukraine, and Transdniester is the narrow sliver of land, which lies to the east along the Ukrainian border. Naturally separated from the rest of Moldova by the Dniester River, throughout the region’s history it has remained predominately ethnic Slavic and looked firmly to the east. Troubles however began in the Soviet Union's dying days as alarm grew in the Dniester region over growing Moldovan nationalism and the possible reunification of Moldova with Romania. A 1989 law, which made Moldovan an official language added to the tension, which was followed by Transdniester announcing its secession in September 1990. After a short and violent civil war Transdniester has been governed defacto by the self-elected PMR [Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic]. In 2011 the Republic celebrated 21 years of independence but still remains unrecognised by the international community.

The first generation to grow-up within the political disharmony of the separatist state are deeply proud to be Russian but are starting to question the tiny republic’s success and the implications on their own futures. International trade is restricted; jobs and opportunities are limited and on-going difficulties with obtaining expensive visas, limits economic migration. Some of the teenagers involved in the series claim that the Government has profited greatly in the twilight of disputed sovereignty, lining their pockets and keeping its people on the margins - the average wage is $130/£80 per month.

Within the country’s isolated confines the decayed splendour of the Soviet Union’s utopian dream still hangs in the air, making the youth of Transdniester become something of a jilted generation, let down by socialist dreams. Evidenced by the crumbling architecture of deserted and disused cultural institutes, with little on offer in a place supposed to be called home, many look afar. Access to the Internet feeds desires to move away or emulate aspects of western living, but lack of vibrant and modern alternatives locally, reduces such to idealism, as the uncertainty of Transdniester’s future, continues their waiting game for change.

While ‘Stories East of the River’ represents a particular place and its youth caught up in on-going political and economic difficulties, the images are also universal stories of fragility, isolation, and desire for something else; maybe escape, hopes for a better future, or simply experience and inspiration.