From an early age Maxim Polyakov has loved telling stories. As a teenager, he devoured the works of Ernest Hemingway, whose dispatches from hot spots around the world influenced him to take up journalism. These days, he works as a reporter for locals.md, a popular online magazine about cultural life in Moldova and its capital city, Chisinau.
Polyakov was born and raised in Transnistria, a breakaway region of Moldova that is home to 530,000 people, sandwiched between the Dniester River and Moldova’s border with Ukraine. Since 2014, he has been a multimedia journalist, using text, video, and photography to explore topics that are typically forgotten by mainstream Moldovan media, including labor migration, the country’s forsaken rural areas, and the plight of ethnic minorities in Moldova.
In 2013, Polyakov and a few like-minded journalists launched river.md, a short-lived online magazine covering Transnistria that sought to do the type of enterprise reporting absent in the territory. Three years later, his team produced http://homeontheborder.com/ a multimedia platform on national minorities in Moldova and Transnistria funded in part by a grant from the Prague Civic Center.
One of the poorest countries in Europe, Moldova has struggled since it broke free of the Soviet Union to establish rule of law and stem rampant corruption and organized crime. Moldovan law protects press freedom, but many media are simply mouthpieces for the business and political groups that control them, and civil defamation suits are a common method of silencing troublesome reporters.
“Media owned by these groups primarily serve the interests of their owners,” Polyakov says. “They’re not interested in covering important problems and issues in society.”
In Transnistria, with its de facto government and law enforcement agencies, journalists are often subject to censorship and official pressure, and in recent years some online media have been forced to shut down after criticizing the authorities.
Moldovan journalism is also hobbled by a lack of qualified reporters and funding to do investigative work. The country offers little chance of getting a good journalism education, so Polyakov is self-taught.
In order to remain independent, Polyakov has chosen to do journalism the hard way, forgoing the generous salaries offered by Moldova’s media barons and the job security of Transnistria’s tightly controlled state media.
“I don’t want to work for oligarchs or a state that is mired in corruption,” he says.