Along the northeastern border of Ukraine, there lies a small strip of land known as Transnistria. Officially, this territory is a part of Moldova, but during the collapse of the Soviet Union, the region declared its independence. The stated reason was an opposition to the Romanianization of public life—but the movement may have been more political in nature.

Regardless, during the civil war in 1992, Moldova’s central government lost control over the area. Since then, a de-facto regime was established; they quickly set up an independent currency, border controls, a parliament, a national anthem and citizenship. To this day, however, the self-proclaimed state is recognized by very few entities—not even Russia recognizes their bid for independence.

Still, Russia hugely impacts the political, economical and public life in Transnistria. Without aid from Russia, the country wouldn’t be able to survive. In March 2014, during the course of the Ukraine crisis and the annexation of Crimea, the Transnistrian government asked to formally become a part of Russia—a request complicated by the fact that the entire country of Ukraine lies between the breakaway republic and its benefactor. In contrast, Moldova has been putting in efforts to join the European Union, reflecting the continued divide between the two regions. The parallels to the conflict in Ukraine are obvious.

What is life like in a country filled with so many illusions? While staying there, I got to know many people, each of whom introduced me to their everyday lives in a state without a nation, without a history, without a clear present and a foreseeable future. And yet, my pictures depict places and people that seem like they haven’t changed for centuries. In Transnistria, elderly people reminisce wistfully about the Soviet era, when they were part of a world power: the vanguard of one of the two great ideologies after WWII, which they helped win.

On the other hand, however, melancholy and sadness are evident in people’s faces. Especially the younger generation dreams of a more colorful and more hopeful world. They dream of a life that encourages the tenets of youth: rebellion, individual perspective, and finding yourself.

—Julia Autz