Chișinău. Photo by Vitalie Sitnic on Unsplash.


When Gokhan woke up on Monday morning, he was hungover, tired. Readers will remember my old friend was forced to flee Kyiv last week at the start of the Russian invasion. Having arrived safely in Chisanau, the Moldova capital the day before, he and his colleagues spent most of the day at a local friend’s house eating and drinking, and drinking.

As he woke to the new reality, a room he rented on the outskirts of the city, the dull pain in his head, the weariness of sleep deprivation, the disorientation – all of these things were mediated by one deciding factor.

“It felt good being fucking alive!” he recalled.

Indeed, we were in close contact all that dreadful weekend, as the invasion began, and my old friend made hasty plans to leave. The boss at the company where he worked in Kyiv had offices in Chisanau, and had arranged for them to relocate. Knowing that time was of the essence, I’d urged Gokhan to get on the road as soon as possible. The roads going out of the city were traffic-locked, as tens of thousands fled.

Fortunately, he and his boss and others had managed to exit the city and cross over. “Thanks again, man! Your words really did help get me off my ass!” he messaged. I took his gratitude with a shrug. My old friend always was a procrastinator, dear reader, let us all agree that if one cannot be motivated by approaching tanks and bombs, then there is no hope for you.

When I spoke to him early Tuesday, he was still settling in, adjusting to his abrupt new surroundings. They had arrived very early, the city was still dark, and his mindset was not of a tourist but a refugee or survivor, so he hadn’t been all that focused on the scenery.

His room is “fine,” the suburban neighborhood safe enough. Still using a second mobile phone and an app, Gokhan set up a surveillance camera, so that if by chance his room was robbed or someone tries to break in, he can have some kind of evidence. That all seemed a bit alarming to me, but Gokhan assured me that these were just precautions.

According to The New York Times, some 500,000 people had fled Ukraine as of Tuesday, with about 36,000 going to Moldova. The rest fled to Poland, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia. I asked if he had seen other Ukrainians, or other Turks for that matter. As a matter of fact, a young Ukrainian guy, 27, was occupying one of the rooms down the hall in his building. The guy had managed to escape his country ahead of the invasion, and Gokhan assumed there were others. No, he hadn’t seen any other Turks so far.

“They probably, like so many others, have been left behind to die,” he glumly concluded.

Knowing that Gokhan understandably needed to catch is breath, and that he had more pressing matters on his mind, I took the liberty to do a bit of research on the city. Chisanau is located in the middle of the country on the banks of the River Bâc, a tributary of the Dniester. According to Wikipedia, the city and surrounding area has a population of 700,000. Chișinău is the most economically prosperous locality in Moldova and its largest transportation hub.

The city center along the river offers a number of museums and monuments, especially to its troubled past as a former Soviet bloc country. There is, for example, the Train of Pain, a monument to the victims of communist mass deportations.

“Yeah, I’ll try to check out some of that,” Gokhan reported. “Let you know what I think and all, whenever I can get around to it.”

At the moment, there were only two things on his mind. The first was work. He wanted to get into the office and try to start drumming up sales, get back in the swing of things. It was difficult for me to imagine mustering the zest required to resume business as usual. The second thing on his mind were worries that the Russians could in the near future decide to invade Moldova next. After all, it’s right across the border from Ukraine. And judging from history, it would be nothing new. The Red Army captured the city of Chisnau in August, 1944. So my friend’s anxieties are not all that farfetched unfortunately.

To lighten the mood, I asked how it felt to be a “semi-refugee.”

“Yeah,” he said, sighing. “It feels amazing!”


Over the next few days, we kept in touch as my friend adjusted to his new situation, and the situation just over the border worsened. We watched as the Russians advanced on the cities, taking Kherson on Thursday, and the casualties mounted. By that point, more than 1 million Ukrainians had fled the country.

I asked Gokhan about the people in Chisanau. Were they worried Moldava could be next?

“Ah, the local people are crazy, like all the Balkan nations,” he joked. “Some are worried about an invasion, some not. It’s not a pressing issue at the moment.”

Given the country’s Soviet past, I asked if the country would in fact support the Russians should such an invasion occur. He estimated 70-30 percent, with the majority opposing.

“Are you keeping your options open?” I asked.

“I’d probably head off to Romania if anything happened. But there’s a good chance (the invasion) won’t happen here. The Russians want Odessa, not fucking Chisanau.”

Here in Turkey, there were a few developments as well. While the relaxing of Covid mask requirements came as a much-needed breath of fresh air, few are exactly rejoicing. We have shifted our focus away from the pandemic to new woes – inflation and the war just across the Black Sea to the north.

The government refused to join in putting sanctions on Russia, which came as little surprise here given the big economic ties between the two countries. Instead, the Turkish government is, at least publicly, playing the role of mediator. Since the administration does consider Russia to be at war, the protocols of the Montreux Convention would be enforced, under which Russian ships’ access to the Bosphorus will be restricted.

However, since Putin seems to have already had ships in the Black Sea prior to the invasion, the restrictions are likely to have little effect unless it is a protracted conflict. On a side note, the administrative added that under the convention, vessels seeking to return to their home ports cannot be restricted – a key point, when you consider any Russian vessel passing north through the Bosphorus would technically be “heading home,” and thus allowed passage to the Black Sea anyway. A Russian envoy “greatly appreciated” Turkey’s stance on the strait, according to HaberTurk news agency.

We read of anti-war protests, especially by Ukranians living in the south of Turkey. Here in Istanbul, hundreds gathered outside the Russian Consul-General office on Isktiklal Caddesi, in the heart of the city, to voice their opposition as well.


Meanwhile, in Chisanau my old friend is trying to put a positive spin on things. He’s got a room, a job, the basic necessities. Like a lot of other people, his life has been turned upside down, his old world cast ruthlessly aside by the blind march of events.

He recalled the day before the Russians invaded, he bought a pendant bearing the blue and gold national colors from an old woman on the street. The woman was pale and haggard, and in clear despair. Holding on to the pendant now, foxholed in the Moldovan capital, Gokhan reflected on how lucky he was to get out. He wondered about the fate of the old woman in the street, along with so many others.

“I will keep it always as a reminder,” he said, posting a picture on Instagram.

Hopefully, for my friend and so many others, this war will, sooner rather than later, become only a distant memory – but judging from this past week, this thought is merely wishful thinking, and the time for wishful thinking is past. It is a time to be clear-eyed, focused, unsentimental. There will be time to reflect later, but now it is time to keep all eyes on the present, and like my friend Gokhan, be ready at any time for the ground beneath us to shudder yet again.


James Tressler, a former Lost Coast resident, is a writer and teacher living in Istanbul.