Transnistria’s apartment complexes are dilapidated and identical, and, despite large Russian subsidies, the economy is a mess. But a vast modern sports complex is the pride of the region. The atmosphere was such that I expected to run into the crusty old Soviet leader of the 1970s, Leonid Brezhnev.
“For people here, Putin is a hero,” one young woman told me.
It’s true that the Moldovan government in the past was sometimes heavy-handed or threatening to Russian speakers, and, just as Moldovans had the right to leave the Soviet Union, people in Transnistria should have the right to secede from Moldova. But that should happen when Russian troops are gone and people have the right to speak freely.
Moldova, which is Romanian-speaking, is rural, relaxed and green, but the economy crashed after the collapse of the Soviet Union and perhaps one million people fled the country to find work. In some Moldovan villages, it is difficult to find young women because so many left for jobs abroad. According to human rights monitors and United Nations officials, these women were tricked, raped and trafficked by organized crime into brothels across western Europe.