Yana stands in her pink flip-flops about 15 kilometers from the Moldovan border. She is scared.
Like others in the towns and villages of this region, she fears that the Russian war in Ukraine will spread to Transnistria.
Transnistria is a small pro-Russian breakaway region sandwiched between Ukraine and Moldova, both of which were once part of the Soviet Union. It declared itself unilaterally independent in the early 1990s but is not recognized by any other country in the world. Russia has a small contingent of 1,500 troops in the region which it says are peacekeepers.
“We are seeing more and more Ukrainian servicemen here,” said Lana, 30, who lives with her husband and two children in Serbia. “They’re here to protect us, and even though they say we’ll be fine, I know they’re there for a reason. I’m afraid that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin could possibly come.
It comes after a senior Russian commander, Major General Rustam Minnekayev, said in April that Moscow’s goal was to take full control of southern Ukraine and the eastern Donbass region, giving it access to Crimea – which it annexed to Ukraine in 2014 – and to Transnistria.
“The control of southern Ukraine is another exit door to Transnistria, where there are also facts of oppression of the Russian-speaking population,” Major General Minnekayev said.
Ukraine sees Russian claims that the people of Transnistria are oppressed as a Russian attempt to justify intervention in Moldova.
Yana, meanwhile, told Euronews she doesn’t know what to do at this point.
She may want to evacuate if things get worse, but she also knows that all she owns is the family home and doesn’t want to leave it.
“I never thought it could be dangerous to live here. We have always had a quiet relationship with Pridnestrovie (another name for Transnistria),” she said. “I don’t know where we would go if Russian troops came here. There is nowhere to run.
Is Russia trying to destabilize Moldova?
The fear that Russia wants to reach Transnistria has increased in recent weeks after several explosions inside Transnistria.
The breakaway region, which has close ties to Moscow, said administrative buildings such as its state security headquarters were attacked. Additionally, they reported that two radio towers and a military unit were hit.
“According to preliminary data, the traces of those who organized the attacks lead to Ukraine,” Transnistrian Foreign Minister Vitaly Ignatiev said. told Interfax.
kyiv has denied having anything to do with the blasts and says Russia is behind them.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Moscow was using false flag attacks – carrying out a bombing to disguise the source and shift blame to someone else – as a pretext to attack Moldova.
“We clearly understand that this is one of the steps of the Russian Federation,” Zelenskyy said. “The goal is obvious – to destabilize the situation in the region and threaten Moldova. They show that if Moldova supports Ukraine, there will be certain steps.”
There has also been speculation that Russian forces inside Transnistria may attack Ukraine to open another front in the war and stretch Ukrainian troops.
“It’s a distinct possibility, in the sense that it would fit in with Putin’s strategy to reconstitute the former Soviet Union as much as possible as a Russian sphere of influence as a basis for Russia’s great power status,” said Stefan Wolff, an expert in international security. professor at the University of Birmingham, says Newsweek.
“For this to work in Moldova, Putin needs a land connection which he could now seek to establish. The other problem, of course, is that the Russians need military capabilities to do this. So far, it doesn’t seem like they’re making much progress, even in the Donbass.
“I don’t mind if Russia comes”
Sergei, 60, sits at a small plastic table drinking vodka and beer with his friends outside a small kiosk in Otaci, Moldova, about 60 kilometers from Transnistria.
He and his friends have heard rumors that Russia may want to reach Transnistria and potentially invade all of Moldova to reclaim part of the former Soviet Union.
However, they find it hard to believe.
They cannot understand that Putin has any interest in Moldova, which they claim is a friendly nation of Russia.
Sergei, who does not want to give his last name, maintains that Ukraine is partly responsible for the war.
“There are a lot of Nazis in Ukraine. They have such bullshit,” Sergei said, echoing the Russian narrative – rejected by scholars of Nazism as Russian propaganda — that Moscow is intervening in Ukraine to “denazify” the country.
Sergei says he served in the Soviet army in Afghanistan, where he was injured. He said that as someone who knows war, conflict is the last thing he wants. But, he added, it wouldn’t be bad if Russia had more influence here in Moldova, he argues.
His friends agree. They argue that the economic situation in Otaci and Moldova has generally deteriorated since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
“We are helping so many Ukrainian refugees here in Moldova and giving them everything, and at the same time we, the people of Moldova, are suffering,” says Inna, 49, a kiosk owner.
“Gas and electricity prices have gone up. Everything is more expensive now. I can’t even turn on the heating in the winter.
Alena, 40, who sits and drinks a beer while her five-year-old son Artem waits quietly next to her, says she would welcome Russian troops here.
“I don’t think Russia will come here. In Moldova, everyone is for Russia, not for Ukraine, but for Russia,” she said.
“But I would like to see Putin interfere in our Moldova and take us. I wish I could [see this].”
Volodymyr Fesenko, president of the Penta Center for Applied Policy Studies in Ukraine, says it’s not unusual for people’s opinion of Russia to be divided near the border with Transnistria. It’s similar to what you saw in eastern Ukraine before the war.
“As a rule, many people from older generations show nostalgia for Soviet times,” Volodymyr Fesenko, president of the Penta Center of Applied Political Studies in Ukraine, told Euronews, referring to Moldovans.
“So the generation gap in this regard really exists. But not only between generations but also between regions.
“In the Russian-speaking regions, nostalgia for the USSR manifested itself more strongly, and in western Ukraine, a critical attitude towards the USSR dominates.”
He points out that some people’s nostalgia for the Soviet era can often turn into support for Russia, although the two are very different.
“In older generations, nostalgia for the USSR is mainly due to social reasons,” he added. “Under the socialist system, there were no big income gaps; there was a system of social guarantees, slightly higher pensions, low utility rates. At the same time, many do not even understand how the pension fund is formed, and that in the USSR there were two workers for one pensioner, and now there is one pensioner for one worker.
“Many have forgotten that during the Soviet era there was a shortage of many products, even meat and sausages.”
A politician survey showed that 46% of respondents in Moldova see the Russian invasion as an “unjustified attack”.
By comparison, 18% believed the Kremlin’s narrative that Russia was liberating Ukraine from Nazism.
“Putin is a crazy leader”
Back in Ukraine, in Kodyma, near Transnistria, Euronews speaks with Liubov, 63, in his garden, while her husband mows the lawn. She has just returned from the hospital after a stroke and is enjoying the sun. She says some people in the town think life was better here during the Soviet Union, but Liubov says that’s nonsense.
“The only good thing under the Soviet Union was stability. With stability, I mean you always had a job, but other than that, nothing was stable,” Liubov said, “Someone always took care of you back then, but you were also very poor. We had no cars; now we have two. Back then, you could also say nothing. You were locked up.
“I think people forget that. And I think Putin thought we were the same people now in Ukraine as in the Soviet Union, but that’s not the case. Some might think things were better back then, but most of us have tasted too much freedom to return to the restrictions of Soviet life.
She says that in general people across the border from Moldova and Ukraine are the same people who just want peace.
Putin is the only one who wants war, she adds.
“Putin is just a crazy leader. I don’t believe he will get here. I’m sure we will push them back. We didn’t attack anyone. Putin did,” Liubov said.
She starts getting red in the face talking about Putin. Her husband reminds her of how the doctor told her to only watch TV for ten minutes a day due to the recent stroke and how emotional Liubov becomes seeing the horrors of war.
“You have to stop this interview,” he told her. “It’s worse for you than watching the news.”