Mahala by Anton Polyakov and Anna Galatonova

Issue 95

In the early 1990s, when the Soviet Union was about to collapse and Moldova proclaimed its independence, one of the regions of the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic decided to go another way. Self-proclaimed republic of Transnistria is an approximately 200-km-long sliver of territory along the left bank of the Dniester river running between Moldova and Ukraine. For over 25 years the republic has an indefinite status, none of the countries recognizes the transnistrian independence except Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh which also are unrecognized republics. During this time, was raised the whole new generation which identifies itself as “Transnistrians”.

The heroes of our story are young people who live in the rural north of Transnistria. It seems at first that they have an idyllic life in the midst of rocks and hills covered in thick woods. They have a close relation to earth, nature, and farm animals, they are used to hard labor and love their native land. However, except the fact that their state is unrecognized, there is one more problem — the village is dying out. There are very few paid jobs, entertainment, or growth opportunities in their villages. That’s why at some point young people have to choose: stay in the village or leave their home to look for a better life. Having grown up in the near-border territory, where the cultures and histories of different countries and nationalities have mixed up, they feel certain uncertainty in front of the undefined future.

The title for our story — Mahala — was borrowed from the local dialect of Moldavian. This word names an isolated part of the settlement populated by people who are generally friendly towards each other and feel that together they form a kind of a community. Our protagonists are also living their own secluded lives, are separated from the rest of the world and form a community that in the general sense is “mahala”: they have known each other their whole life, help each other with farming, celebrate holidays and grow up together.

The depopulation of rural areas is a general tendency for the entire post-Soviet space. Additionally, this process is stimulated by economic and political crises which are associated with the state status of republic. Many people are forced to abandon their traditional way of life and break the link with the place in which they were born. They move to the cities or abroad. Is there a future for the village without these young people and how long they will hold on in their villages?

Anton Polyakov and Anna Galatonova live and work in Moldova, Tirsapol. 
To contact Anna or to view more of Anton's work, please visit this website.

Most of the youth in the villages are doing agriculture. Dima is walking across the corn field to weed his vegetable patch. 

Most of the youth in the villages are doing agriculture. Dima is walking across the corn field to weed his vegetable patch. 

 


 
The bar is one of the few places in the village where young people can meet and relax in the evening. 

The bar is one of the few places in the village where young people can meet and relax in the evening. 

 
 
It's common for the village, that young people organize a farewell party before they go to the army for a year. 

It's common for the village, that young people organize a farewell party before they go to the army for a year. 

 
Yura, 21 years old. All his life he lived with his parents in Hristovaia village. He dreams to serve in the army and then work in military structures, but because of his health problems he has to stay in the village and seek another path. For many young men from the villages army is the only way to start their life outside the village. 

Yura, 21 years old. All his life he lived with his parents in Hristovaia village. He dreams to serve in the army and then work in military structures, but because of his health problems he has to stay in the village and seek another path. For many young men from the villages army is the only way to start their life outside the village. 

 
For villagers who own at least one cow there is a rule of taking turns of herding the common herd. 

For villagers who own at least one cow there is a rule of taking turns of herding the common herd. 

 
Middle school graduation day in Rotari. The graduation class has only three people. Unlike in the city schools, in the villages children have no option to go to high school. This is because the number of children in rural areas is too low. 

Middle school graduation day in Rotari. The graduation class has only three people. Unlike in the city schools, in the villages children have no option to go to high school. This is because the number of children in rural areas is too low. 

 
Yura arrived on a date with Tanya. 

Yura arrived on a date with Tanya. 

 
Dima grew up in the Hristovaia village, mainly in care of his grandparents. His parents don't live together: his mother lives in Odessa (Ukraine) and his father is working in Israel. This is a fairly typical example of labor migration and depopulation of rural areas for Transnistria. He attends Polytechnical College in Camenca where he is studying to be a motor mechanic. After graduation Dima is going to work for one of his parents.  

Dima grew up in the Hristovaia village, mainly in care of his grandparents. His parents don't live together: his mother lives in Odessa (Ukraine) and his father is working in Israel. This is a fairly typical example of labor migration and depopulation of rural areas for Transnistria. He attends Polytechnical College in Camenca where he is studying to be a motor mechanic. After graduation Dima is going to work for one of his parents.  

 
In the northern villages of Transnistria there is still the tradition of burning fires on top of the hill on Easter night. But for many years in a row instead of firewood and thatch people have been using old automobile tires. This tradition has roots in the pagan beliefs where the fire symbolizes purification. But now this is just an excuse for the youth to gather and drink some homemade wine. 

In the northern villages of Transnistria there is still the tradition of burning fires on top of the hill on Easter night. But for many years in a row instead of firewood and thatch people have been using old automobile tires. This tradition has roots in the pagan beliefs where the fire symbolizes purification. But now this is just an excuse for the youth to gather and drink some homemade wine. 

 
In spare time, mostly in the evenings, the guys get together to play football in the school yard. 

In spare time, mostly in the evenings, the guys get together to play football in the school yard. 

 
In September, the guys are harvesting corn to feed their farm animals in the winter period. 

In September, the guys are harvesting corn to feed their farm animals in the winter period. 

 
The guys use the hold bus as a secret meeting spot. 

The guys use the hold bus as a secret meeting spot. 

 
From an early age Vasya helped his parents about the house, after school he got a job as a watchman of the dilapidated agricultural enterprises and receives about $50 per month. His elder sister left her home long time ago to start her new life in Kiev. Now he and his mother work on the farm and occasionally Vasya goes to work to Kiev, where together with his sister they cook pizza in the restaurant. Despite the fact that in his village there are no special prospects, Vasya never complains about life in the village and loves it for beautiful nature. 

From an early age Vasya helped his parents about the house, after school he got a job as a watchman of the dilapidated agricultural enterprises and receives about $50 per month. His elder sister left her home long time ago to start her new life in Kiev. Now he and his mother work on the farm and occasionally Vasya goes to work to Kiev, where together with his sister they cook pizza in the restaurant. Despite the fact that in his village there are no special prospects, Vasya never complains about life in the village and loves it for beautiful nature. 

 
The outskirts of Rotari village. Children waiting for the cows to come back from the pasture in the evening. 

The outskirts of Rotari village. Children waiting for the cows to come back from the pasture in the evening. 

 
Alyosha and Yura are sitting under the flag of Transnistria. 

Alyosha and Yura are sitting under the flag of Transnistria. 

 
Many buildings in the villages are reminiscent of the Soviet past, but they are rarely used now. The inscription on the building is the greeting "Welcome" in three languages, which are official in Transnistria: Ukrainian, Moldavian and Russian. 

Many buildings in the villages are reminiscent of the Soviet past, but they are rarely used now. The inscription on the building is the greeting "Welcome" in three languages, which are official in Transnistria: Ukrainian, Moldavian and Russian.