Anton Polyakov

2015 - Ongoing


Ongoing joint project by Anton Polyakov and Anna Galatonova

In the early 1990s, when the Soviet Union was about to collapse and Moldova proclaimed its independence, one of the regions of the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic decided to go another way. Self-proclaimed republic of Transnistria is an approximately 200-km-long sliver of territory along the left bank of the Dniester river running between Moldova and Ukraine. For over 25 years the republic has an indefinite status, none of the countries recognizes the transnistrian independence except Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh which also are unrecognized republics. During this time, was raised the whole new generation which identifies itself as “Transnistrians”.

The subjects of our story are young people who live in the rural north of Transnistria. It seems at first that they have an idyllic life in the midst of rocks and hills covered in thick woods. They have a close relation to earth, nature, and farm animals, they are used to hard labor and love their native land. However, except the fact that their state is unrecognized, there is one more problem — the village is dying out. There are very few paid jobs, entertainment, or growth opportunities in their villages. That’s why at some point young people have to choose: stay in the village or leave their home to look for a better life. Having grown up in the near-border territory, where the cultures and histories of different countries and nationalities have mixed up, they feel certain uncertainty in front of the undefined future.

The title for our story — Mahala — was borrowed from the local dialect of Moldavian. This word names an isolated part of the settlement populated by people who are generally friendly towards each other and feel that together they form a kind of a community. Our protagonists are also living their own secluded lives, are separated from the rest of the world and form a community that in the general sense is “mahala”: they have known each other their whole life, help each other with farming, celebrate holidays and grow up together.

The depopulation of rural areas is a general tendency for the entire post-Soviet space. Additionally, this process is stimulated by economic and political crises which are associated with the state status of republic. Many people are forced to abandon their traditional way of life and break the link with the place in which they were born. They move to the cities or abroad. Is there a future for the village without these young people and how long they will hold on in their villages?

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  • Hristovaia village. Dima is walking across the corn field to weed his vegetable patch. Young people in the countryside are involved in the household from an early age, and they work as hard as adults.

  • Agricultural forks in car

  • Hristovaia village. In the villages there are almost no places for leisure, so joint workout or sitting in bars is an opportunity to relax and hang out with each other. Most often, these are the usual conversations about computer games or whoever likes.

  • Rotar village. In September, the guys are harvesting corn to feed their farm animals in the winter period. Maxim is 14 years. Despite his age, he does a lot of work every day to help his parents cope with a large agriculture. In addition, Maxim studies at school and every day he goes to a neighboring village for classes.

  • Camenca is a small town 12 kilometers away from Hristovaia village. Young people come to the town stadium several times per week to work out. These trainings help youngsters to be ready for military service and to defend themselves or their girlfriends in a possible danger.

  • Jura rides from Hristovaia in Rotar - the neighboring village where his girlfriend lives. Yura, 21 y.o. All his life he lived with his parents in Hristovaia village. He dreams to serve in the army and then work in military structures. For many young men from the villages army is the only way to start their life outside the village.

  • Maxim is 15 years old. After graduation from school in his native village of Grushka, he, like his grandmother and father, went to college for a veterinarian. Now he lives in a dormitory in the capital of Transnistria - Tiraspol, after receiving an education, he wants to return to the village and work in his specialty, which, in general, is not typical for young people, who mostly seek to leave the village in search of more earnings and a better life . However, it is not known how his plans can change after 4 years.

  • Hristovaia village. For villagers who own at least one cow there is a rule of taking turns of herding the common herd.

  • Rotar village. In the northern villages of Transnistria there is still the tradition of burning fires on top of the hill on Easter night. But for many years in a row instead of firewood and thatch people have been using old automobile tires. This tradition has roots in the pagan beliefs where the fire symbolizes purification. But now this is just an excuse for the youth to gather and drink some homemade wine.

  • Rotar village. Yura and his girlfriend Tania (on the right corner of the photo) on goodbye party dedicated Yura’s recruitment to army. It's a very important event for the village, when young people organize a farewell party before they go to the army for one year. Usually all youngsters from the village come to this kind of events. Some people experienced this year in the army, for others this time will come soon. So this event for young people is the way to discuss that experience and to say goodbye for one year.

  • Middle school graduation day in Rotar village. The graduation class has only three people. Unlike in the city schools, in the villages children have no option to go to high school. This is because the number of children in rural areas is too low.

  • Hristovaia village. Yura and Aliosha on birthday party of their friend. There is Transnistrian flag behind. It is identical to the flag of Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic.

  • Rotar village. From an early age Vasya helped his parents about the house, after school he got a job as a watchman of the dilapidated agricultural enterprises and receives about $ 50 per month. His elder sister left her home long time ago to start her new life in Kiev. Now he and his mother work on the farm and occasionally Vasya goes to work to Kiev, where together with his sister they cook pizza in the restaurant. Despite of fact that in his village there are no special prospects, Vasya never complains about life in the village and loves it for beautiful nature.

  • Hristovaia village. Dima grew up in the Hristovaia village, mainly in care of his grandparents. His parents work outside Transnistria. This is a fairly typical example of labor migration and depopulation of rural areas for Transnistria. At present, Dima also left his native village to work in Moscow.

  • Hristovaia village. Dima got this motorcycle from his grandfather. Old ‘Dnepr’ still comes to help whenever needed for work.

  • Rotar village. Vasya and Grisha are sitting in a tree house, built in a grove near Rotar village. Grisha is more younger than Vasya, but they are friends and often spend their free time together. Grisha studies at school and lives with his sister, grandmother and grandfather, while his parents are working abroad to have enough money to support the family. Grisha wants to apply to Military college.

  • Rotar village. Diana and Seryozha are on a busstop in Rotar village. It’s also a meeting spot for local teenagers. There are a bench and lightning, which is enough for this place to be a spot for youngsters. Diana is almost 15 years old and she wants to apply to College of Medicine in Tiraspol. Many boys would like to go to army, but girls usually dream about nurse career.

  • Yura and Tania live in neighbor villages. He’s living in Hristovaia and often comes by his old car to Rotar village to visit Tania on weekends. In countryside neighborhoods usually there are more boys than girls, because most of girls got married early and have a lot to do in their village household, or they go to the city to start a new life there.

  • Rotar village. Many buildings in the villages remind of the Soviet past, but they are rarely used now. The inscription on the building is the greeting "Welcome" in three languages, which are official in Transnistria: Ukrainian, Moldavian and Russian.

  • Sasha is 21 years old, he was born and raised in Hristovaia village. Now he serves in the Transnistrian army.
    "My dream is pretty simple and banal: I want to be happy, to have a profitable job, to achieve financial independence. After my military service, I plan to finish my studies, to rent an apartment and to find a job for the first time, nothing special. To be honest, I did not think where I would live permanently, I thought about Europe, Canada, but there is so much to be done for this. The army for me is a wasted time. Actually, there are some positive aspects: I became stronger both physically and morally, learned a lot about people, began to appreciate the time and the loved ones."