Places That Don't Exist Episode 2: Trans-Dniester

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Places That Don't Exist Episode 2: Trans-Dniester - aka Transniestria, Transdniestria, Transnistria

Trans-Dniester - aka Transniestria, Transdniestria, Transnistria
Moldova, sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine, gained independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Two-thirds of the people are of Romanian descent, and wanted closer ties with neighbours to the West. But the eastern side of the country wanted to stay close to Ukraine and Russia. War broke out, and the east split to form Transniestria, a new country which – even now - remains unrecognised by the world.

Simon begins his journey by meeting the Moldovan President. Simon expects a formal conversation, but the President is in casual clothes, and takes him fishing. After warning that Transniestria is a “black hole” of arms trafficking, the President offers Simon cognac. As the President’s wife returns with the weekly shopping, Simon and the President are finishing their second bottle.

Outside the capital, Simon discovers Moldova is beautiful but is also the poorest country in Europe. He finds villages with men who sold a kidney to buy a cow.

Simon then heads east to Transniestria, and discovers a country of 600,000 people where Soviet statues still stand, and a mysterious firm called Sheriff runs much of life. He watches the Transniestria Independence Day celebrations, with the whole Soviet-era army and children singing “our army is the best army”.

Simon visits a major steel plant, once the pride of the Soviet Union, but now rumoured to be producing arms, before wandering into Ukraine to show the lax security of a country on the eastern edge of Europe.

Finally, Simon heads through undergrowth towards a secret Russian military base containing an ammunition stockpile that Western spies fear is reaching terrorists. As Simon gets closer, police arrive. Simon and his crew are held by the KGB as spies, questioned, and their equipment is confiscated. Eventually everything is returned, but they realise it’s time to leave.