The Moldovan enclave of Ukraine is surrounded by pro Russian forces amidst the ongoing war.

Only a short drive away from Ukraine’s southern border, hundreds of Russian troops guard a vast Soviet-era ammunition depot in Transnistria; a breakaway region of Moldova. This depot, together with its soldiers and the pro-Russian separatists, have drawn the attention of the global community.Recently, there have been many accusations from Russia, Ukraine and Moldova regarding alleged attempts to destabilise Moldova and warnings about the potential for conflict. Moldova’s Prime Minister Dorin Recean has called for the expulsion of Russian troops from the region, while President Maia Sandu has accused Moscow of planning to overthrow her pro-western government. On the other hand, Russia has voiced concerns about a possible ‘false flag’ attack from Ukraine and stated that any attack against its troops in Transnistria would be deemed as an attack against Russia itself. Western analysts have warned that Transnistria, a region controlled by pro-Russian separatists since Moldova’s civil war in 1992, could be used by Russia as an entry point into Ukraine, pushing Ukrainian troops away from other areas of battle. This concern is particularly strong in the small Moldovan village of Molovata Noua, which lies right on the border between Moldova and Transnistria and is home to many veterans of the civil war. On Friday, these veterans of the conflict gathered in Molovata Noua to commemorate their fallen comrades, while also feeling the looming threat of renewed violence in the region. Two dozen men in Moldovan military fatigues, decorated with glittering medals, journeyed down a deserted dirt road from Molovata Noua into the breakaway pro-Russian territory. At the forefront was 62-year-old Vlad Untila, remarking on the precarious situation in the region as they passed the Russian checkpoint. “We’re lucky Ukraine is

defending us at the moment,” he said, “but if it kicks off in Moldova, we’re ready to defend this territory again.”The convoy of cars encountered a gaggle of armed soldiers, yet they seemed to pay no attention to this eye-catching annual ritual. Taking in the stillness of the countryside, Vlad gestured to his comrades, remarking with a gruff voice, “Look around you – this is where we fought – it was all a battlefield.” Vlad and Constantin stand together at the first stop of their pilgrimage, a blue cross made from metal poles, its purpose marked by a garland of flowers and a plastic bottle of wine. 31 years earlier, a local mayor had been killed here, and the two friends now pause to honour their fallen comrades and the memories of those lost during the conflict. “It’s hard,” Vlad reflects, “because I feel I’m in my own country, yet I can’t walk freely here.” Constantin nods in agreement, adding, “It’s my own land, and yet I am unable to roam openly here. The two veterans continue on their pilgrimage, stopping at each of the light blue memorials to raise a glass in honour of their lost family members, colleagues, and coworkers. At one of the stops, Vlad remembers his friend Vasea, who was killed by a shrapnel fragment from a tank that was shooting at them from a hill nearby. “He fell to the ground and died in my arms,” Vlad recalls sadly. Veterans were greeted with a warm welcome from students of a local Moldovan school, headed by their headmistress Tatiana Rosca. Recalling the battles of 1992, Tatiana expressed fear of the deep wounds on the souls of her people from the war. One of her pupils was ready to fight for their country, just like her father and grandfather did 30 years ago.Moldova’s identity is complicated due to its history, geography, and economics. The Dniester River divides the country, with Transnistria on the other side, receiving subsidized gas from Russia. The economic gap between Moldova and Transnistria has been exacerbated since the war in Ukraine, after Moscow cut gas supplies to Moldova last year. Discussing the idea of freedom and a better life, the people of Transnistria are facing a harsh reality. Despite their hope for a better future, those living in the region are forced to pay 30 times more for their bills when travelling across the river to Moldova. When asked ‘Are you crazy?’ by people in Transnistria, Moldova is seen as not understanding their plight. The locals here have taken a stance that Moscow is not a military threat, but an economic ally, with President Maia Sandu being accused of provoking a war by moving closer to the West. 59 year old Maria Ursachi comments that people are afraid to come over the river due to border control and the lack of support from Chisinau. To pay tribute to the frozen conflict in the region, veterans of Transnistria lay red carnations at a memorial in the village square of Molovata Noua. For years, their children have been exposed to Russian culture, language, and economic support, even as their elders have fought against the pro-Russian separatists. With younger generations joining in the resistance, Vlad explains that “the older generations will remain at the core of any resistance.” In the small Moldovan enclave, memories of the past remain strong, but apprehension for the future intensifies.

kabir khan

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