Reportage Migration and demography Subscribers
The entrance to the village of Stețcani, near Miclești. | Photo: ©Théodore Donguy In the centre of Stețcani, the empty streets are in a sorry state. | Photo: ©Théodore Donguy

Caught in a spiral of insecurity, Moldova faces a mass exodus

It's the worst demographic decline in Europe. Political instability, poor quality of life, and the threat from Russia – the reasons to flee Moldova are numerous, according to locals. But the emigrants are leaving behind ghost villages.

Published on 22 November 2023 at 19:06
In the centre of Stețcani, the empty streets are in a sorry state. | Photo: ©Théodore Donguy The entrance to the village of Stețcani, near Miclești. | Photo: ©Théodore Donguy
This article is reserved for our subscribers

Costea Haiducu, 60, is a winegrower. He lives in Stețcani, a village north of Chișinău, Moldova's capital. Although the population of Stețcani now numbers no more than a hundred, that was not always the case. "The only ones left are 60-year-olds like me. People are fleeing this country and that makes me very sad. It's become normal in the villages here", laments Haiducu. As soon as people get the chance, they leave their homes in the hope of a better life in the capital or abroad. In the wake of this mass exodus: eerily deserted villages.

Moldova Migration empty town
In the centre of Stețcani, Costea Haiducu talks with sadness about the state of his village. | Photo: ©Théodore Donguy

"Young people aren't the only ones leaving the country," says Costea Haiducu, who is dressed in faded overalls. While most people try to reach the capital, the wealthiest take the direct route to Western Europe. Costea is a direct victim of the exodus: "My wife left to work in Italy 10 years ago. I miss her so much", he says. Tears welling up in his eyes, he heads off back to his small home. We are on the only tarmac road in the village.

Since gaining independence in 1991 after the collapse of the USSR, this country wedged between Romania and Ukraine has been one of the poorest in Europe. The size of Belgium and with a population of 2.6 million – a third of whom live and work abroad – Moldova has repeatedly found itself torn between authoritarianism and democracy.

It is the country's villages that have paid the highest price for this instability. There has been a dearth of investment in public infrastructure. Medical deserts have appeared, and public transport is non-existent. "150 more villages could disappear in the next population census", observes Moldovan population researcher Valeriu Sainsus.

Moldova Migration empty town crop field
In Miclești, a village near Stețcani, a farmer feeds her goats. They are sheltered in an unfinished house. | Photo: ©Théodore Donguy

In the country's rural areas, stray dogs sometimes outnumber humans. The carcasses of abandoned houses, some still under construction, become kennels at the start of winter.

Are you a news organisation, a business, an association or a foundation? Check out our bespoke editorial and translation services.

Support border-free European journalism

See our subscription offers, or donate to bolster our independence

On the same topic