The guard with the Kalashnikov singles me out from the other passengers on the border to Ukraine. I am leaving the frozen state of Transnistria. He leads me to a small interrogation room. Four more border patrol guards and a translator are in the room. The men fossick through my bags and ask questions. ‘Are you carrying drugs or weapons?’ ‘Do you deal drugs or weapons?’ ‘Are you aware that you are entering a country that is at war?’
They pry through my belongings, perplexed by a camouflage T-shirt, a bag of toiletries, and some vitamin C tablets. They ask if I intend to fight for Ukraine. Some of the guards look strangely disappointed when I say no. Eventually I convince them that I am here as a tourist. The guard with the Kalashnikov takes me outside. Wiping the sweat from his brow, he sits down and pulls a vanilla ice cream from a refrigerated tub.
On the bus we pass endless fields of sunflowers. Weeds sprout from holes in the road. We approach a checkpoint manned by soldiers slumped over sandbags in the sun – the blue and yellow Ukrainian flag raised high above them. We’re admitted without an inspection. Some kilometres later we reach a second checkpoint and pass through unnoticed.