Difference between revisions of "Transnistria"
Revision as of 15:28, 7 May 2014
|image=Presidentiraspol.jpg |caption=Presidential Building, Tiraspol |location=Transnistria in its region.svg |flag=Flag of Transnistria (state).svg |capital=Tiraspol |government=presidential republic; declared independence from Moldova in 1990, but not internationally recognized |area=3,567km² |population=509,439 (2013) |language= Russian, Moldovan (Romanian) and Ukrainian |religion= |currency=Transnistrian ruble |electricity=230V/50Hz (European plug) |tld=.md |callingcode=+373 |timezone=UTC+2 }} Transnistria (locally called by its Russian name: Pridnestrovie; and occasionally, in English: Trans-Dniester) is a de facto state in Eastern Europe that has declared independence from Moldova, although it is only recognized by other breakaway states such as Abkhazia and South Ossetia. It roughly corresponds to the territory between the Dniester River and Ukraine.
Transnistria (official name Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic; in Russian Pridnestrovskaia Moldavskaia Respublika, PMR) is a part of Moldova that declared its independence in 1990, resulting in a civil war that lasted until 1992. Transnistria has not been recognised by any United Nations member but maintains its functional autonomy with military and other support from Russia.
Transnistria is divided into 5 administrative regions and two free cities.
NOTE: It is NOT Possible to enter Transnistria from the Ukraine as of 24 April 2014. You will be refused entry by Ukrainian officials on their side of the Transnistrian border due to the fact they had closed borders with them as a result of Pro-Russian activity.
Entering Transnistria is fairly straightforward by bus, train or car from both west (Moldova, usually Chişinău) and east (Ukraine, usually Odessa). Upon entering Transnistria, you will fill out a landing card. It is printed in Russian and English. Upon clearing immigration, this card, not your passport, is stamped - half stays at the crossing you entered; half stays with you until you leave Transnistria.
From the Bendery crossing to Chişinău, a taxi costs 100 to 150 Moldovan lei. A marshrutka costs around MDL25. Marshrutkas between Odessa and the Kuchurgan border (on the main road to Tiraspol) are fairly frequent and cheap.
When crossing the border between Moldova and Transnistria, you will be checked only by Transnistrian officials. There are also peacekeeping Russian and Ukrainian soldiers who may stop and search vehicles.
Entering Transnistria from Ukraine will not get you a Moldovan entry stamp. If you then leave Moldova through a crossing controlled by Moldovan authorities, you may have problems with the Moldovan immigration authorities, which may try to claim that you entered Moldova illegally. Exiting Moldova through Transnistria to Ukraine (whether having a Moldovan entry stamp or not) causes no problems - even a subsequent visit to Moldova through one of border crossings controlled by the Moldovan authorities doesn't raise problems with the border guards.
The Transnistrian officials may try to extort bribes from travellers at the borders, particularly on the main Odessa - Chişinău road. Be firm, unafraid and polite in insisting that you do not have to pay to enter or leave their country (unless driving your own vehicle, which incurs a USD5 fee upon entry). This may be daunting - nowhere else can you be interrogated by the KGB wearing hammers and sickles - but bribes are not officially condoned and they will back down. Don't let the guards see your money, it will make them want some for themselves. If you feel beaten and feel that paying a bribe is the best way out, keep it low: USD2 should be enough.
The best way to fight this corruption is to know about what's going to happen to you and be prepared for the games that the guards may play before travelling to Transnistria. Write a short paragraph stating that you know their tricks and how they work and that it's not necessary to have a Moldovan exit visa. Translate this into Russian while also providing a few of the complaint phone numbers listed below to show them you mean business. Also make sure to have a few copies of this document because they will most likely confiscate the first version you give them.
Complaints are possible on a hotline: +373 533 94578 or 92568. You can also send a complaint to email@example.com (Transnistrian Customs). Future travellers will be grateful for your complaint! Try to memorize the number of the officer before he asks you for a bribe. Even the nicest officer can be corrupt. If you complain you should also state the time, the date and the name of the border crossing. You should also give your phone number. There is an English speaking officer responsible for complaints. You can reach him under +373 778 50986 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is no longer necessary to register with the police for stays under 24 hours: this is now done at the border. If you are staying longer, be sure the hotel or person you are staying with registers you or register yourself with the Ministry of Interior.
Entering Moldova through Transnistria from Ukraine
The official Moldovan stance on the missing entry stamp can vary.
Upon leaving Moldova, the immigration officials may insist that you should have registered with the Ministry of Information, Technologies and Communication (49 M Kogalniceanu str, Chişinău; now moved to 42 Pushkin str. office 116., Chişinău) within 3 days (72 hours) of arriving to get a Moldovan entry stamp. However, not all guards are aware that the Ministry of Information has stated that a Moldovan entry stamp is not needed and that your Ukrainian exit stamp is sufficient. It is worth your while being firm in pointing this out to them. Arguing this point with the officials can be daunting but they will back down after harassing you and making a few phone calls to verify the official stance.
Transnistria does not have its own international passenger airport (it has a military or freight airport), so the best way is to fly to Chisinau in Moldova and travel from there. It is also possible to access from Odessa in Ukraine via bus.
The only major railway stations are Tiraspol and Bendery. There are trains between Odessa, Transnistria and Chişinău as of July 2012. As of July 2012, there is train connection between Chişinău and Moscow, stopping at Tiraspol and Kiev (Leaves Chisinau 22:30, stop at Tiraspol around 01:30 and arrive in Kiev 12:30). Check Poezda CIS Railway Timetable for up-to-date, English language timetables. As of July 2013, a train to Chisinau leaves every evening, and a train to Odessa, Ukraine leaves at 09.40, reaching Odessa at 12.18. Also, if you have failed to register with the immigration authorities, the train is the best way to leave the country because your immigration card will not be asked for by the Transnistrian authorities (they assume you left it at the immigration office)- that is, if they even bother to board the train before it leaves Transnistria. (Worst case, a USD5/65 ruble fine would be charged if you overstay)
Cars can enter but expect delays of up to an hour at border crossings in busy times. Note that foreign nationals driving their own vehicles are prime targets for border guards trying to extract bribes. According to the official hotline of Transnistrian customs there is an official road tax (USD5). Ask for a receipt!
Note that not all border crossing points are allowed/able/willing to process foreign cars in customs. They may tell you to cross the border at a bigger crossing point.
There is a relatively frequent (about every 30min, 07:00-18:00, less frequently as early as 05:00 and as late as 22:00) bus service connecting Chişinău and Tiraspol. Ask for return times when you arrive. Marshrutkas (minibuses) also run this route. Direct Odessa - Tiraspol buses are not so frequent. However, buses from Tiraspol to the border at Kuchurgan (Кучурган) and from Kuchurgan to Odessa are frequent.
Check AVPMR  for official timetables of local and international buses.
There are hardly any train connections within the country, so the bus -- if available -- will be your only choice. Marshrutkas (minibuses) zip between cities much faster (and often more frequently) than buses. They cost a little more, but travel much faster and can be hailed anywhere along their route. If you flag down a marshrutka, it's customary to pay on entrance.
Taxis in Tiraspol are very common and are quite cheap. As always, be a little wary of cheating taxi drivers and be sure to negotiate a price before you get in the taxi, although most drivers in Transnistria are surprisingly honest and more and more of them are using meters. If you miss the last bus to Kishinev at 18.35, you can take a taxi from Tiraspol to Kishinev, which should not cost more than USD30.
The three official languages of Transnistria are Russian, Moldovan (which is almost the same language as Romanian, written in the Cyrillic script in Transnistria) and Ukrainian. Russian is the lingua franca and the language of government.
Some people speak English, German, or even French. After the official languages, English and German are the most common. Young people especially may speak English.
Furthermore, even people who speak some English (or another foreign language) can be quite shy about it, and may deny that they speak it even if they have been educated in it. Keep in mind there is essentially zero tourism in Transnistria. If you are a native speaker of a foreign language, there's a good chance that you're the first native speaker the person you are talking to has ever spoken with.
Tiraspol does not exactly boast a shopping mile; shops are few and have a limited choice. The official currency is the Transnistrian ruble (which can be used and exchanged only in Transnistria), and few if any businesses accept any other currency.
Exchange offices are very common; many are open 24 hours and will happily give you Transnistrian rubles in return for euros, US dollars, Moldovan lei, Russian rubles or Ukrainian hryvnia. Official exchange rates can be found at the website of the Trans-Dniestr Republican Bank. Trading Transnistrian rubles into other currencies such as euros or US dollars may turn out to be difficult. However, trading Transnistrian rubles for Moldovan lei at the main bus station in Tiraspol was not a problem. Remember to do this before you leave - don't even think about trying to change Transnistian rubles outside Transnistria, no-one will touch them.
There are excellent deals in brandy made locally to a world class standard, about USD3 a bottle. Cigarettes are very cheap too. There are also arts and crafts to buy as well. A good exchange point is the Kvint store in downtown Tiraspol--there is an exchange office with good rates right inside the shop. There is also an exchange booth at Tiraspol the bus/train station.
International credit/debit cards and traveller's cheques are not accepted anywhere in Transnistria. However, there are ATMs all over Tiraspol.
There is a large open-air market in Tiraspol, close to the Suvorov's monument, and another in Bendery, located a few meters away from the bus and marshrutka station. There are a variety of goods, from whole hogs heads to hand-knitted socks to Chinese-made housewares.
Open-air markets are always a great place to start.
There are several restaurants serving local and international cuisine. There are no western fast food chains but there is an "Andy's Pizza" restaurant on 25th October Street in Tiraspol and in Bendery. Some of the best food in Bendery is served by a Moscow-trained chef in the "Tighina" restaurant on Lazo str., 7 near Bendery-1 rail station. There are also cafeteria style restaurants like "Dolce Vita" which are very cheap usually around USD3-5 for a meal that includes a 3 course lunch along with desert and your choice of drink.
Local wine and cognac are excellent and cheap. The Kvint factory is situated in Tiraspol, and Tiraspol has a Kvint store, offering incredible deals on Kvint products. Kvint produces arguably the best Cognac in the former Soviet Union, but is extremely hard to come by in Western countries (though Moldovan supermarkets will carry it). A trip to Transnistria is not complete without a sample. There is also a soft drink that is sold in the streets called Kvas. For about 50 US cents you can get a big cold cup of Kvas which is a Russian version of Root Beer. Anyone considering trying it should definitely go through with it, it is historic and good.
The physical dangers of Transnistria are almost non-existent. The major cities are much safer than Western European and American cities of similar size and economic makeup. Also, despite the political situation with Moldova, there is essentially no threat of being caught in a military action. There has not been fighting in Transnistria for many years. Indeed, Transnistria is a very safe place for travel. By far the biggest threat to the traveller is scamming.
Despite scare reports, Tiraspol is very welcoming, mainly because it gets so few tourists. Young people tend to speak English and are helpful. The city is well-policed. Street crime is low.
Many Transnistrians are excited to see foreigners and will be very welcoming, if a bit shy at first. Some, however, see foreigners as being sources of easy money. Always negotiate the price of a taxi before you get in. Use pen and paper if you are not a Russian speaker. Ask about the prices of items before you order them at a bar or restaurant. It is not common to be scammed, but it is far from rare. However, even when scams are attempted, it is often for no more than a few euros.
The new president is cracking down hard on bribery- just call the hotline if any police attempt to extort bribes from you (which is very unlikely at this point). Also, be aware that while enforcement is not particularly strict, drinking on the street has recently been made illegal and while this reform is (needless to say) extremely unpopular, it's probably best to avoid any run-ins with the police.
Medical care is almost entirely non-existent in Transnistria, especially for non-citizens. Furthermore, even if you have travel health insurance it will often not be valid in Transnistria (but valid in Moldova). It's advisable to check in advance with your insurer.
Be careful in Transnistria's bars during the night. There are often Mafia-like characters having a good time with rolls of dollars and you should not inquire too closely about the source of their wealth.
Although internet is available for the locals from home, internet cafes are not widespread yet. There is one in Bendery, in Gagarin Street (close to the city market) and another one in Tiraspol, near Andy's Pizza on 25th October Street. Restaurants 7Пятницъ (7 Fridays),"La Placinta" and Andy's Pizza in Tiraspol offer free Wi-Fi (Broadband) for their guests.
In 2005 the BBC published a TV series called "Places That Don't Exist" starring travel author Simon Reeve. One 30 minute episode titled Transdniestria provides a skeptical account of the political and social conditions of the de-facto state.
A range of international media outlets such as The Telegraph have since built reports that put the nation in a rather negative light.
In December 2013 the first travel guide for Transnistria has been published by my Backpacker Guides.