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What Should I Know About Transnistria?

Brendan McGuigan
Brendan McGuigan

Transnistria is a small, de facto independent republic in the nation of Moldova. The region covers 1,600 square miles (4,160 sq. km). The region shares borders with the rest of Moldova, as well as the Ukraine. It is bounded on one side by the Dniester River.

Transnistria has been inhabited for millennia. In the 5th century BCE the Greeks settled parts of the area, and were later supplanted by the Romans in the 1st century. When the Goths overran much of the Roman Empire, they seized control of Transnistria, settling both sides of the Dniester River.

Man holding a globe
Man holding a globe

Over the next few centuries the region played host to diverse ethnic groups, from the South and East Slavs, the Romanians, the Cumans, and the Turks. Sometime in the 11th century the Rus’ took control of Transnistria, and eventually it was integrated into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The Duchy later lost most of the south to the Ottomans in the early-16th century, but retained the northern portion of the region.

Through the 14th and 15th centuries, Moldavia in the west had been expanding its territory and forming the foundations of a new state. The territory continued expanding east until it reached the Dniester, which served as its far border for some time, leaving Transnistria apart. Although Moldavia made some incursions into Transnistria in the late-16th century, it never fully occupied the territory.

At the end of the 18th century Transnistria became a part of the Russian Empire, and a massive campaign of settlement began. Russia particularly pushed the settlement of ethnic-Romanians in Transnistria, and they quickly became a major sector of the population. Following the October Revolution in Russia, the Ukrainian SSR, which had claimed control over the region of Transnistria, was formed.

In the 1940s the Moldavian SSR was formed, incorporating seized territory from Romania and most of Transnistria, ceded from the Ukrainian SSR. During the Soviet period Transnistria was the most highly developed portion of Moldavia, with the bulk of industrial development taking place there.

In 1990 the Pridnestrovian Moldavian SSR, essentially Transnistria, declared itself distinct from Moldova as a whole. This was over-ruled by the Soviet government, who declared the independence null and void. A low-scale civil war broke out between separatists and the government of Moldova, continuing for a few months before a cease-fire was brokered in 1992. Following the cease-fire, Transnistria remained officially a part of Moldova, however the region is effectively an independent nation operating within Moldova.

Moldova is a beautiful country, and the region of Transnistria is no exception. The land along the Dniester is scenic and green, and the people are generally friendly and open. Because of the ongoing conflict between Transistria and the government of Moldova, however, it is recommended that most visitors stay away from this volatile region.

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