Valentina Smântână, a pensioner and small land owner, crosses a small bridge to her farm. Photos: Ion Buga / UNDP Moldova


Every day for the past decade, farmers from the Moldovan village of Palanca have had to go through customs to work their land on the other side of the highway. It’s a geographic anomaly: their land is Moldovan, but the Odessa-Reni highway, which they must cross, is Ukrainian.

The 7.7 kilometre stretch of highway that runs through this Palanca region was once Moldovan, but was transferred to Ukraine during an exchange of property in 1999. Since then, the 900 hectares of farmland that 400 Moldovans where make their livelihoods lies across a border.


And it’s an obstacle course. They need special permission to get their tractors, and seasonal employees, across. They have to walk seven extra kilometres out of their way to the border crossing point. For a little while, the border crossing would only open at 8 in the morning - way past the start of a typical working day in the field.

To this day, they walk along the highway onto a dirt track that’s full of potholes, before crossing a ten-meter wide irrigation channel using a damaged bridge.

“This has been our only source of income,” says Valentina Smântână, a retired farmer who continues to help her neighbors through the complex logistics. “All we want to do is cross through.”

Current border crossing point.
Nicolae Dudnicenco prepares to cross the border.


A 66-year-old agronomist, Nicolae Dudnicenco takes care of over 140 hectares of land Palanca villagers have leased out to a private company to manage. It brings them a steady flow of sunflower seeds and oil, corn, wheat and other produce.

But at a heavy cost. Nicolae crosses the border twice every day. “In two months, we will start harvesting sunflowers. I’m already concerned about how to take the produce back to the village,” he says. Longer journeys mean higher fuel costs as well. And those farmers who haven’t leased their lands have to manage all these challenges and costs themselves. They have no choice, this is their only income.

Mayor Larisa Voloh shows the map of the border crossing project.


For 12 years, Larisa Voloh, the mayor of Palanca, took it upon herself to solve that untenable situation. But it turned out she quickly found some allies. The governments of Ukraine and Moldova and a network of development partners began to see the real need for a new system. Now, the farmers’ daily routine is about to finally get easier.

Carried out by UNDP and funded by the European Union, a brand new border crossing is about to be built. The construction will cover 2.6 hectares and include offices for Moldovan and Ukrainian Border Police and Customs staff. It will have dedicated routes for bicycles, cars, trucks and pedestrians – reserved especially for these farmers. It will take less than ten minutes for anyone to go through.

It’s expected that the number of people who cross the border through Palanca will double to 1.2 million every year. The new infrastructure will also increase safety and reduce the possibility of corruption.

Nicolae’s feeling hopeful.  “The control will happen just once, which means we will cross the border more easily with all the equipment we need,” says Nicolae.

It seems like a small change. But it’s going to be life-changing.

The border station under construction.

The new border facilities are part of a larger objective for improved international trade and migration flows between Moldova and Ukraine, as well as safer and more open borders.

 

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