ON A WARM SUMMER AFTERNOON IN 2006, Jens Olof Lasthein headed out of the city of Grigoriopol in the independent but internationally unrecognised breakaway state of Transnistria, framed by the Ukranian border to its east and the Dneister River to its west, beyond which lies Moldova, which continues to claim sovereignty over the territory. As he followed the Dneister, he saw a man swimming in the river, holding on to a goose. As Lasthein ran forward to take a picture, the man let the goose go. He still remembers his disappointment at missing the shot.
Lasthein resumed walking until he came to an old, unused ferry dock, where a barge stood rusting on the riverbank. A horse-drawn carriage approached, and a man climbed out, accompanied by his son and daughter-in-law. They had come to the river to wash their horse and some rugs. Lasthein took pictures while the son rode the horse into the Dniester’s swirling currents, and then as the family swam with geese, snacked on watermelon, drank vodka and smoked cigarettes until the afternoon turned into evening. Lasthein left them, and crossed the border into the Moldovan district of Dubăsari.
Lasthein has many such memories from his 20 years of roving through Eastern Europe. Born in Sweden in 1964 and raised in Denmark, early in his life Lasthein developed a fascination for the sharp cultural differences created by “the division of Europe by the Iron Curtain,” and for “the people living on the other side.” “I studied Russian to be able to talk with them when I eventually could go there myself,” he said.