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MOLDOVA

Formerly ruled by Romania, Moldova became part of the Soviet Union at the close of World War II. Although independent from the USSR since 1991, Russian forces have remained on Moldovan territory east of the Nistru (Dnister) River supporting the Slavic majority population, mostly Ukrainians and Russians, who have proclaimed a "Transnistria" republic. One of the poorest nations in Europe and plagued by a moribund economy, in 2001 Moldova became the first former Soviet state to elect a communist as its president. Moldova has a population of 4,762,000, which makes it, four size, the most densely populated of all countries in the former USSR. About 65% of the people are Moldovans. Large minority groups include Ukrainians (14%), Russians (13%) and Turks, Jews and Bulgarians (9%). Moldova is the second smallest of the former Soviet states with 33,700km2. Chisinau is a city of 800,000 people which is surrounded by rural agricultural lands. Chisinau straddles the Bik River, a tributary of the Nistru River.

Moldova is a hilly plain. The country's average elevation is 147 m (about 482.3 ft) above sea level, with a maximum height of 429.5 m (about 1410 ft). The climate is continental, with some modification of conditions by the Black Sea. Winters are mild, with average daily temperatures in January between -4 to -7 C ( about 23 to 27 F). Summers are quite warm, with average daily temperatures in July generally exceeding 25° C (68 F) and daily highs reaching 40° C (104 F) on occasion.

The Constitution of 1994 described the official language as 'Moldovan' although it is considered to be virtually identical to Romanian. In 1940, after Soviet annexation, the Cyrillic script was introduced and was referred to as Moldavian up until 1989 when the Latin alphabet was reintroduced. Russian is still the most widely spoken language. The ethnic and linguistic make-up of Moldova is as follows: Moldovans 64.5%, Ukrainians 13.8%, Russians 13.0%, Gagauz 3.5%, Bulgarians 1.5%, Others 3.7%.

Chisinau is the capital of the Republic of Moldova, a small agricultural nation bordering Romania on the west, and Ukraine to the north, east and south. The border between Romania and Moldova is defined by the Prut and Nistru Rivers; the latter one runs parallel to much of the eastern border, several kilometres inward. Moldova is the second smallest of the former Soviet states with 33,700km2. Chisinau is a city of 800,000 people which is surrounded by rural agricultural lands. Chisinau straddles the B?k River, a tributary of the Nistru River. The B?k River has two tributaries of its own - the Durlesti and Gulbocica Rivers. Although times have changed and Lenin has been replaced by Stefan cel Mare (Stefan the Great), the Romanian prince and national hero, Chisinau still remains a small, provincial Soviet-style city. Most people still live in Stalinist concrete apartment blocks which are scattered throughout the city especially in a ring of the outskirts. The shady centre is filled with separate, turn-of-the-century houses, painted in pastels. The city centre is full of Soviet-style governmental architecture, although scattered amongst them are a few impressive neo-classical buildings. Other major cities in Moldova include: Tiraspol, the capital of Transnistria, with 184,000 inhabitants; Balti with 162,000; and Bender (Tighina) with 132,000. With the exception of Chisinau, there is little Western influence or prosperity anywhere.


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