'Progress is possible after Putin falls': Transnistria's LGBT community fights for its voice

A participant holds up a large rainbow flag during the annual LGBT pride march in Belgrade, Serbia, Sept. 18, 2021.
A participant holds up a large rainbow flag during the annual LGBT pride march in Belgrade, Serbia, Sept. 18, 2021. Copyright AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic
By Finbarr Toesland
Share this articleComments
Share this articleClose Button

One holdover from the Soviet-era in Transnistria, an unrecognised territory between Moldova and Ukraine, is the attitude towards LGBT rights with no visual representation of LGBT people in society.


When Elena Shamshurova was 13, she started to develop feeling for girls, as well as boys. Like any person of her generation, she turned to the internet to get answers, seek out others like her and form a community of like-minded people. But when you live in Transnistria, this comes with particular risks.

“The hardest part was working out if everyone is who they say they are or are they a spy, troll or someone who's trying to disrupt the group,” Shamshurova, now 19, tells Euronews.

The meet-ups she organised at the beach or in shopping centres quickly grew but so did the danger.

“There is just no such place where you can safely meet with a group - if someone's seen with a rainbow flag they will immediately be asked to hide it or you’re going to get in trouble,” Shamshurova says.

“At the beginning, it felt pretty dangerous, as there were only a few people who you could actually trust. But it was amazing that people could actually share their feelings and get help from each other in this group."

Hostile environment

Transnistria, an unrecognised territory between Moldova and Ukraine, announced its independence from Moldova in 1990 and has since become known as one of several post-Soviet frozen conflict zones. While the Transnistria War ceasefire ended the armed military conflict more than 30 years ago, the republic is not internationally recognised.

Another holdover from the Soviet-era is Transnistria’s attitude towards LGBT rights. Same-sex sexual activity was legalised in 2002, with this being one of few rights afforded to LGBT people in the territory. Not only is discussion of homosexuality in this breakaway region, also known as Pridnestrovie, a long-standing taboo but there is no visual representation of LGBT people in society.

Viewed by many in Transnistria as an abhorrent deviation from the norm, openly gay and lesbian people face abuse ranging from threats and verbal attacks to violent assaults.

“In schools, people are getting bullied for information they share on social media, especially for gay men. There are stories from our friends that guys are getting attacked and beaten inside schools by the teachers and classmates,” Shamshurova adds.

Members of the LGBT community, and allies who advocate for their rights, have been intimidated.

In 2017 when photographer Carolina Dutca announced the ‘No Silence' exhibition to shed light on the situation of LGBT people in Transnistria, the KGB spoke to her and pressured her to cancel the event, she has said. After this meeting, and receiving calls and messages threatening her life, Dutca was forced to cancel the show.

A number of LGBT couples and individuals who lived in Tiraspol, the de facto capital of Transnistria, left the region in recent years, a source tells Euronews. The low level of political rights and civil liberties, combined with hostility towards LGBT people, leave little possibility for LGBT activism.

“All this gives the impression that the rights of LGBTQ+ people in Transnistria are not sufficiently protected, but the Transnistrian authorities treat this topic a little less aggressively than the Russian authorities,” says Nikolay Kuzmin, a Transnistrian journalist and political scientist.

Russian influence

For Shamshurova, the older generation who make up the majority of the population are stuck in an outdated mindset that holds back LGBT rights. “It’s really hard for younger people to make any impact at this point," she says.

The lack of a free press in the nation makes advocating for LGBT rights in public an almost impossible task, she adds. The most recent report from human rights watchdog Freedom House finds that critical reporting in Transnistria can result in reprisals including criminal charges.

Legislation passed in 2016 increased the control over state media by authorities, including giving them power to appoint editorial staff. “The government is controlling pretty much all the news, events and views that exist in newspapers and on television,” she says.

“We’re struggling to try and fight for LGBT issues to be discussed, with support I think we can make an impact and gets more freedom for our views so that the older generation can hear our experiences.”

The full-scale Russian war of aggression in Ukraine brought more attention to the level of influence Russia has within Moldova and Transnistria. 


Last March, the Council of Europe adopted a resolution recognising Transnistria as a Moldovan territory occupied by Russia.

For Angela Frolov, lobby and advocacy programme coordinator at GENDERDOC-M Information Centre, an organisation that works for the defence of LGBT rights in Moldova, access to support Transnistria’s LGBT population is severely limited due to the homophobic regime.

“We think that progress is possible just after Putin's regime will fail and Transnistria will return under Moldova's jurisdiction. I'm afraid that nobody can do anything there until they are away from under the Russian influence. The Russian secret services are very strong in the region - most of LGBT people prefer to leave Transnistria,” Frolov told Euronews.

Share this articleComments

You might also like

Russia needs a new president 'to rebuild ties with Europe', opposition figure says

Transnistria separatists set their eyes on possible Russian unification

Where is Transnistria and why does it matter?