In recent weeks, the Republic of Moldova, Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of alleged plots to destabilize our country and warned of the possibility of a new open conflict in the area. A BBC report shows that the threats launched during this period are felt even more intensely by the inhabitants of the village of Molovata Noua – the small Moldovan enclave, caught in the middle between the Transnistrian territory and the Dniester river, which separates it from the rest of the country.
A short distance from Ukraine’s southern border, hundreds of Russian soldiers guard a large Soviet-era ammunition depot in Transnistria. In recent weeks, the warehouse, the soldiers and the Transnistrian region have come to the attention of the whole world.
Prime Minister Dorin Recean said that Russian troops should be expelled from the region, while the head of state, Maia Sandu, said that Moscow is planning a coup in our country and intends to overthrow the pro-European government.
Meanwhile, Russia said the Ukrainians were preparing an attack on the Transnistrian region and warned that any attack on Russian troops in Transnistria would be perceived as an attack on Russia.
And if the residents of Chisinau feel vulnerable, the locals of Molovata Noua feel completely exposed. Many of the older men in the village fought pro-Russian separatists for the territory 30 years ago and wonder if they will have to defend their lands again.
“If fighting starts in Moldova, we are ready to defend this territory again”
Last Friday, veterans of the 1992 conflict gathered in Molovata Noua, to participate in the annual pilgrimage that crosses the line of control between them and Transnistria, in memory of the comrades who lost their lives in the fighting.
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The event was attended by about twenty men, dressed in military uniforms, with shiny medals hanging on their chests and with an indistinct darkness in their eyes. Among them was Vlad Untilla, aged 62.
“We are lucky that Ukraine is defending us at the moment. But if [the fighting] starts in Moldova, we are ready to defend this territory again,” said Vlad.
Their convoy of cars made its way along an unpaved lane that connects Molovata Noua with the separatist territory – entering enemy territory, just as they did 31 years ago.
“Look how they’re looking at us,” the veteran noted, as his car approached the Russian checkpoint.
A disorderly group of armed soldiers watched the convoy pass by them, carrying dozens of men in Moldovan military uniforms, ultimately ignoring this annual “ritual”.
“It’s my land and yet I can’t roam free here”
“Look around you. This is where we fought – the battlefield stretched everywhere,” said Vlad.
More than 30 years away, the muddy road crosses a peaceful and silent landscape of desolate fields, interrupted only by leafless trees.
“It’s hard, because I feel like I’m in my own country. It’s my land and yet I can’t walk freely here,” joined Vlad’s friend Constantin.
A short distance from the checkpoint, hidden among the brambles, is the first stop of the pilgrimage – a simple blue metal cross.
The cross marks the place where, 31 years ago, a local mayor was killed. Veterans gather around her with a wreath and a bottle of wine to honor their fallen comrades.
A trail dotted with similar blue monuments follows. Next to each other, the men repeat the ritual and honor their comrades, relatives and friends.
“We were both snipers. They were shooting at us from that hill, from a tank. One of the shrapnel hit him in the neck. He fell to the ground and died in my arms,” Vlad recalled in the place where his friend, Vasea, was killed.
“Heavy battles were fought here… And there are still deep wounds in the souls of the people”
When they passed by a Moldovan school, the veterans were greeted by several students, led by the director of the institution, Tatiana Roșca.
“Heavy battles were fought here in 1992. And there are still deep wounds in people’s souls. We are very afraid: we know what war means and we don’t wish that on anyone,” said Tatiana.
One of Tatiana’s students said that if a new conflict breaks out – she is ready to take up arms, just as her father and grandfather did 30 years ago.
However, the loyalty of the locals from Moldovata Nouă, as well as those from the rest of our country, is put to the test by historical, geographical and economic problems. Things got even more complicated when Moscow decided last year to cut off natural gas supplies to Moldova.
“I’ll be honest. It is very difficult to convince people that life is better in Moldova, when they pay only a fraction of the price for gas here. We cannot talk about freedom, about a better life and at the same time tell them to cross the Dniester river and pay 30 times more for their bills – they will say to us: are you crazy? But there is a hidden price [behind the cheap gas] – it buys their support”, explained Oleg Gazea, the mayor of Molovata Noua.
“We old people will continue to be the heart of any resistance”
Arriving back in Molovata Noua, the veterans end their pilgrimage in the village square, placing red carnations at a memorial dedicated to the frozen conflict.
In the years since the Dniester war, the children of veterans and their friends have grown up surrounded by Russian soldiers, the Russian language, and Russian economic support.
“We elders will continue to be the heart of any resistance. Even with the involvement of young men”, said Vlad Untilla.
The memories of the past remain as vivid in Molovata Noua, their intensity being supported by the growing concerns of the locals, who fear that the next conflict could break out at any time.