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.
The 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.