Bessarabia was the area with the highest infant mortality and illiteracy rates; at the turn of the century, only 39 percent of the population was literate, the lowest number of physicians in the empire, and 144 miles of unpaved roadways in 1914. Despite this, the region was renowned for its temperate climate, laid-back citizens, Old Believers Moldavians, Jews, Russians, Germans, Swiss, Cossacks, Turks, Bulgarian-speakers, Serbs, and Old Believers were all present in great diversity. It was said that all of these groups led largely segregated but amicably peaceful existence, with relations between them being less strained than in other regions. The region’s diversity and lack of assimilative pressure were exemplified by the Swiss wineries that persisted in the southern part of Bessarabia and the German colonies in the northern part, which continued to function as predominantly ethnic enclaves for generations after their establishment.

Upon initial inspection, Bessarabia appeared to be an exquisitely pastoral region comprised of undulating hills and sheep-grazing pastures; the northern portion of the country was forested, while the southern portion had fewer trees. The timber harvested from the forests of the north, which comprised beech, oak, and ash trees, was utilized extensively in the construction of southern Russia. Just beyond the Austro-Hungarian frontier, the Carpathian Mountains provided protection for Bessarabia against the frigid winter winds. During the spring and summer, the climate was frequently dry and mild.
Bessarabia 1990, old believers Moldavians, Jews, Russians, Germans
It shared its eastern boundary with Ukraine and the Dniester River, and its western border with Romania was formed by the Prut and Danube Rivers. The roads, particularly those situated on its western periphery, were in a state of poor maintenance. Despite the region’s agricultural exports being highly valued, authorities probably refrained from making enhancements to these and the railway system due to the perpetual apprehension of a Romanian invasion.

These concerns were not irrational. Romania continued to harbor resentment towards the cede of western Bessarabia subsequent to the Russo-Turkish War of 1878. The Russian occupation of Bessarabia appeared precarious: The countryside, which had been conquered since 1812, was predominately Moldavian and spoke a language that was virtually identical to Romanian. The region’s cities exuded an almost fraudulent sense of Russianness, mirroring its ambition to surpass Odessa. The majority of individuals enumerated as Russians in its census reports residing in officially designated urban centers, which were frequently little more than villages, were Jews.

This group had experienced significant growth since the late nineteenth century, with the majority of newcomers coming from the Black Sea region in pursuit of economic prospects. In this region, provincial administration was notoriously haphazard; the northern border with Austro-Hungary was particularly permeable, and smuggling was practically open due to the prevalence of extortion. Relatively modest salaries were paid to subordinate officials, bribery was not even frowned upon, and smuggling was dominated by Jews.

Bessarabia, despite being utterly impoverished, was exceptionally fruitful, making it arguably the most potentially lucrative agricultural region in Russia. Its southern region was home to some of the most valuable pastureland in Russia, and one of its most profitable exports was hides. Maize constituted over 30 percent of the agricultural output of Bessarabia in 1910. In addition to spring wheat, barley, and grapes, the region was encircled by over 164,000 acres of vineyards.

Additionally, substantial volumes of dried seafood and fruit were exported. The practice of gardening was widespread; in fact, many of the province’s monasteries featured exquisite gardens brimming with fruit trees. Industrial activity was limited, with the majority of factories being of moderate scale, employing no more than thirty or forty people. These establishments manufactured agricultural apparatus, flour mills, and sawmills. Additionally, Bessarabia was renowned for its adept carpet artisans who employed uncommon dyes derived from vegetable by-products. At the turn of the twentieth century, however, industrial labor economized the region to no more than three thousand individuals.