A Moldovan man leans into the frame of my camera to get his photo taken on April 4, 2017.

Travel to Chisinau from Kyiv: Travel for PCON

Published: May 5, 2017

Moments from the Streets of Moldova
Included within Travel Program for
Policy and Conflict in the Post-Soviet Space
for Spring, 2017
Photojournalism by Rebekah Welch

Although it’s a mere hour away by plane, Chisinau feels far from Kyiv. It’s smaller, slower-paced, simpler, closer to nature, and entirely more curious about foreigners with cameras. That’s not to say they have nothing in common. Both are capitals of former Soviet nations, and both are still working to evolve towards a future independent of Soviet influence. Like Kyiv, Chisinau appears to be looking to, and moving towards, the rest of Europe and the West when it comes to it’s future, perhaps even leaving the East behind. Nevertheless, traces of Soviet Empire in Chisinau are tangible, perhaps even more so than in Kyiv.

Post-Soviet-Conflict-BannerThe most obvious remaining piece of the USSR in Moldova is the language. Much like the Ukrainian Language in Ukraine, Although the official language of Moldova is Romanian (Moldova was once part of Romania), for the most part, everyone speaks Russian, even if they don’t like it. More often than not, on the streets, in restaurants, stores, etc, conversations around me took place in Russian. If someone addressed me in Romanian from the start (which was rare), I would simply respond in Russian and they would switch effortlessly. Only once or twice did this switch accompany a roll of the eyes. In fact, it surprises me, but from my experience, Russian might be the more commonly spoken language in Chisinau. I hear far more Ukrainian in Kyiv than I did Romanian in Chisinau.

Furthermore, while Kyiv’s center, for the most part, is modern, full of skyscrapers and business centers, Chisinau’s miniature city center is full of Soviet architecture. USSR iconic apartment blocks, and government buildings are shorter and wider and poke out above the tree tops on every corner. Judging from the architecture,  strolling down Strada Pushkin in Chisinau feels a bit like you’ve been transported back to 1982.

Despite the other obvious disparities between the two cities, the most memorable to me as a visitor was a difference in mentality. Where Kyiv is popular tourist destination for all of Europe, I got the distinct impression that foreigners are out of the ordinary on the streets of Chisinau. Where this may sound less exciting, it has it’s upside. There are more opportunities to practice your Russian. I couldn’t even order a coffee without it turning into at least a five minute conversation on where I was from, what I was doing there, etc. If not with the barista, then with another customer who heard my accent. This made my internship as a street photographer very interesting in Chisinau. Instead of ignoring me like usual, people in Chisinau either giggled at the camera or walked straight up to me to figure out what I was doing. Because of their interest in me, they were also very tolerant of my less than perfect Russian. Most of them were just delighted I had taken in an interest in their country and culture, and even wanted to stay in touch. But as always, images, moments from the streets I’ve been describing will convey more than my words ever could. Thank goodness I’ve got plenty to show.

A young Moldovan girl walks along Strada Pushkin, Chisinau’s main street after school, in front of Triumphal Arch on April 3, 2017. The Arch was built in 1840 to commemorate the victory of the Russian Empire of the Ottoman Empire.
People gather in the park and courtyard behind Nativity Cathedral in Chisinau’s center on April 8, 2017. Parks are scattered across the entire city center.
Chisinau cityscape just before sunset on April 7, 2017.
A Moldovan man leans into the frame of my camera to get his photo taken on April 4, 2017.
Friends walk through Stefan Chelmare Park, one of the city’s most popular on April 6, 2017.
Soviet architecture lines Chisinau’s streets on April 7, 2017.
Children play in the courtyard of one of Chisinau’s primary schools on April 7, 2016.
Residents of Chisinau wait for the bus on April 5, 2017.
Storm clouds roll in over Chisinau on April 5, 2017.


About the author

Rebekah Welch

Rebekah Welch is a senior at University of Montana in Missoula. She is a double major in Russian and Journalism with an emphasis on photography. She is studying Russian language at NovaMova in Kiev, and am also working for the school as an intern, creating a photoblog. After a semester abroad, she hopes to become fluent enough in Russian that she can work as photojournalist throughout Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia. Although she loves this area of the world, she has a passion for journalism and will go wherever the story takes her.

Program attended: Challenge Grants: Funding for Study Abroad

View all posts by: Rebekah Welch