Photos of Childhood in Europe’s Poorest Nation

VICE — Moldova is currently the poorest country in Europe. It gained its independence from Russia in 1992, and since then, there’s been very little media coverage of it. I found it to be a curious place—unknown and undocumented, so I went to take pictures.

As a small borderland between Ukraine and Romania, Moldova’s economic stability has seen added strain due to Ukraine’s ongoing civil war. Links between Russia and Ukraine to trade agricultural commodities and wine have been crushed, leaving little job prospects and encouraging the younger generation to travel mostly to Europe and Russia looking for work, a better future, or to send money back to their loved ones, often leaving children with elderly family members, put in institutional boarding schools, or sometimes abandoned.

Protests and demonstrations over the country’s corruption after a banking downturn successfully captured the media’s attention, but the nation is still divided between pro-Europeans and pro-Russians.

Life in rural Moldova is proving harder than ever. Over the years, I’ve made numerous trips back and forth to the country, photographing children going about their daily lives there. On my last visit, I stayed with the Gradinaris, a fantastic family with six children who perfectly embody the generosity, honesty, and pride of the Moldovan people. The father of the family works in Russia, and the mother works on the family farm, yet she struggles to find the money for seeds. The children work and help out where they can.

Despite the bleak forecasts for their country, I watched the children in moments of joy. They went on adventures, blew bubbles, created makeshift roller skates, and dressed up as princesses. I was struck by how resilient the purity of childhood can be, and the incredible endurance of a struggling nation.

As told to Francesca Cronan.

Go to Asa Sjöström’s website for more photos.

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