Nina Postica puts a candle in the earth in front of her parents' grave in Moldova. Photos by Clary Estes.

After seven decades of relative silence, exiles of the former Soviet state of Moldova are telling their stories of deportation under Joseph Stalin and their return to their homeland after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Moldova sits between Romania and Ukraine.
Moldova sits between Romania and Ukraine.

In the 1940s, Joseph Stalin’s Soviet regime forced thousands of residents of the mostly rural country of Moldova to relocate to notorious places of exile in Siberia and Kazakhstan.

Daily Yonder contributor Clary Estes, who is living in the eastern European country, has been documenting some of these stories of exile and return and is collecting the work in a project she’s calling Those Who Remain.

Now a republic, Moldova was (and largely remains) the most rural and agricultural of the western-most Soviet states during the Stalin years. Blessed with rich soil, the nation has long relied on agriculture as an important part of its economy. Though  other parts of its economy have developed since the end of the Soviet era, agriculture remains one of the pillars of the state’s economy. And their rural traditions run deep.

Hundreds of thousands of deportees from various parts of the Soviet Union died during the nation’s political deportations. In Moldova, even after deportees were liberated and free to return to their country, they were systematically silenced and shamed under Soviet and post-Soviet societies, Estes said. They never had the chance to share their history and tell about their experiences under Stalin. Many deportees today are not just speaking for themselves; they are bearing witness to the trauma of their parents, as many deportees living today were deported as children, according to Estes.

Clary said Those Who Remain looks at the personal histories of those who were deported. The project provides a platform for sharing and exploring the issues and history of the deportations on a national and international level.

The project also looks at what it means to photograph memories, which are both highly personal and largely invisible to all but the one who is doing the remembering. Estes said she’s also interested in examining how the experience of photography has changed over time, not just for the person being photographed but for the audience that sees the photos and photographer who snaps the picture.

This project, which is being partially funded via Indiegogo, will continue for the next two to four years. Estes said she will also be working in Siberia and Kazakhstan as part of the project.

In Moldova, the orthodox tradition has a holiday called Pastele Blajinilor. Nina and her family go to visit her brother and mother in her parents home village of Nemteni on the border with Romania.
Nina observes the Orthodox holiday of Pastele Blajinilor by visiting family in her parents’ home village of Nemteni, which is on the border with Romania.

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