What life was like in Soviet Moldova (PHOTOS)

B. Krutsko/Sputnik
This southern region, famous for its wine, was the last republic to join the USSR, which helped preserve its distinctive local color.

The historical region of Bessarabia in south-eastern Europe became part of the Russian Empire in the 19th century. After the 1917 Revolution, the region declared independence as the Moldavian Democratic Republic, and then promptly became part of neighboring Romania. The new Soviet government was indignant, believing that Romania had illegally occupied the land. To avoid a military conflict, Romania voluntarily surrendered it, and in 1940 the entire territory of historical Bessarabia became part of the USSR as the Moldavian SSR.

Red Army soldiers are greeted by children during a military parade on the accession of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina to the USSR, Chisinau, July 4, 1940.
The same accession parade in Chisinau, 1940

Non-Soviet Moldova

Due to its relatively late entry into the USSR, life in Moldova at first differed from the rest of the country: the restaurants, street organ grinders and, of course, architecture barely resembled the typical Soviet landscape. 

Bessarabia Nova restaurant in Chisinau, 1940
Parizh (Paris) tearoom, 1940
Organ grinder with parrot at a fair in the city of Chernivtsi, 1940
Steiner manor house, 1940
Bank in the city of Chernivtsi (now part of Ukraine), 1940
Unemployed man on the streets of Chisinau, 1940
Village wedding. Orchestra, 1940
Village wedding. Feast in a hut, 1940

Occupied territory

In 1940, Moldova passed from Romania to the USSR. Then in June 1941, when the Great Patriotic War broke out, Romania, an ally of Nazi Germany, occupied Moldova. The Romanian authorities squeezed all the economic and agricultural lifeblood out of Moldova; its industry was expropriated for the war effort, and the peasantry was forced to give up almost all grain and livestock. Tens of thousands of Moldovans in Romania were relocated to Germany as free labor. Likewise, people in the occupied territory were compelled to work without payment — repairing roads and infrastructure destroyed during the war. Historically, Bessarabia had been home to many Jews and Roma. The newly arrived Romanians set up concentration camps and ghettos, and carried out mass killings. Soviet troops finally liberated Moldova in 1944.

Romanians round up Jewish partisans and their families
Lunch in the Chisinau ghetto
Raising the Banner of Victory over liberated Chisinau, 1944

Wine country

After the war, Moldova lay in ruins. Its infrastructure was wrecked, and disease was rampant for lack of medicine, not to mention mass unemployment and famine. The Soviet government allocated considerable resources to renovate its industry and agriculture, importing equipment and raw materials. 

Moldava's leading industry was, and remains, winemaking. Moldavian wine was known and loved throughout the entire Soviet Union. Thanks to the warm climate, vast quantities of fruit, veg and berries could be grown and cultivated, as well as sunflowers, sugar beets, tobacco and other industrial crops.

In the 1950s, the powerful Dubasari hydroelectric station was built on the Dniester River; the sewing industry was developed, as was the production of refrigerators.

Grape harvest in a Moldavian village, 1982
Tomatoes at the May 1st Tiraspol canning factory, 1953
Beekeeper Anton Lupulchuk in an apiary at the Mayak collective farm in the Dondyushansky district. Moldavian SSR, 1975
“40 Years of the Komsomol” sewing factory, 1964
Chisinau refrigerator plant, 1970
Dubasari hydroelectric station, 1980

Images of Soviet life

Peacetime brought the usual Soviet trappings: May Day celebrations, pioneer processions and domestic feasts. 

Victory Day celebration on Victory Square in Chisinau, 1976

Public meeting in Tiraspol, 1964

Moldavian singer Olga Sorokina with friends in her apartment in Chisinau, 1968
Monument to the liberators of Chisinau from Nazi forces, 1974

A.S. Pushkin Moldavian State Music and Drama Theater on Lenin Avenue, Chisinau, 1960s.
Academy of Sciences of the Moldavian SSR in Chisinau, 1966

Railway station and square in Chisinau, 1967.

Moskva movie theater in Chisinau, 1968.
Intourist hotel and restaurant under construction on Lenin Avenue in Chisinau, 1974
Library in Tiraspol, 1964

Central Telegraph building in Chisinau, 1972.

Garment factory workers on a Sunday, 1975
Post Office building in Chisinau, 1972.
Playing at being dentists. Kindergarten, 1985
Parade in Tiraspol, 1964

Faces of Moldova

The bulk of the population consisted of Moldovans, Ukrainians and Russians. But historically the region had a large Gagauz community (a Turkic people), as well as many Jews, Bulgarians and Roma. People from all across the USSR were drawn to Moldova for its warm climate and work opportunities. Many tourists came too.  

Electric welder, 1950s
Shepherding, 1989
Grape harvest in the Moldavian SSR, 1972
Moldavian metallurgical plant in the city of Rybnitsa. Galina Frolova, senior controller of the steelmaking section, 1987
Moldavian SSR. “Last Bell” school-leaving ceremony in the village of Berdar, Kotovsky district, 1986
Moldavian SSR. Spinner from the village of Butucheny near the Old Orhei historical-archaeological complex, 1985
Members of the folk-dance ensemble Moldavanesca, 1975
Olya Grigorenko, a worker at the “Testament of Lenin” collective farm, in a sunflower field, 1966
Sofia Rotaru, an ethnic Moldavian singer famous throughout the USSR (and still popular today), 1974

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