On July 5, the Moldovan authorities were notified by email that more than 50 state institutions had been mined that day.
It was the beginning of a summer of bomb threats.
Since then, more than 100 similar warnings have been sent to landmarks including Chisinau International Airport, parliament and government buildings, the Supreme Court, commercial centers, hospitals and churches across the country.
They were all false alarms.
“Of course we don’t feel safe here. We are always worried and thinking about what could happen,” said 68-year-old Vera from the Moldovan capital Chisinau.
The retiree believes the threats are almost certainly a result of the war in Ukraine, which has put Moldova, a landlocked country bordering Ukraine and Romania, in an even more difficult position than usual.
The Republic of Moldova, which gained its independence at the same time as Ukraine when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, has a total population of 3.5 million people and is deeply divided between those who gravitate towards Russia and those who favor the policies of the European Union.
In 1990, the breakaway region of Transnistria, a narrow strip of land bordering Ukraine, declared independence. Although it remains internationally recognized as Moldovan territory, it has been in conflict with the Moldovan authorities for years and officials in Chisinau have no authority over the area.
The Russian-speaking area is home to about 500,000 ethnic Russians and Ukrainians, some Moldovans and Bulgarians, and more than 1,000 Russian “peacekeepers”.
Ukrainians fear that Russia could use the region to carry out new attacks on Ukraine, while top Moldovan officials worry that Moscow could invade their country.
Alexandru Flenchea, who was previously in charge of the reintegration of Transnistria, told Al Jazeera that the wave of bomb threats is intended to create a sense of insecurity and insecurity among the Moldovan people.
“Those who planned and executed this wave of false bomb threats have achieved their goal,” he said.
People found guilty of false bomb threats currently face fines of up to 42,500 Moldovan leu ($2,200) and up to two years in prison.
In an effort to discourage potential offenders, the Interior Ministry is now proposing to increase fines and increase the jail term to 12 years for “knowingly communicating lies about the act of terrorism”.
According to a spokesman for the national police, each false bomb threat costs the state about 30,000 Moldovan leu ($1,500), but the cost can be as much as 100,000 Moldovan leu ($5,000), as in the case of the airport.
Costs have risen this month as Moldova has hired more counterterrorism experts. And because the Moldovan police respond to every threat, the response time for real accidents and medical emergencies has increased.
The private sector has also taken a hit.
A spokesman for AirMoldova, a recently privatized airline, told Al Jazeera that since the threats began, the company has lost about €60,000 ($61,000).
The warnings began days after the European Council granted Moldova candidate status for the European Union.
Meanwhile, self-proclaimed Transnistrian Foreign Minister Vitali Ignatiev is pushing for renewed zeal among Transnistrians to join Russia, citing a 2006 referendum in which Transnistrians expressed their desire to do so.
The Kremlin has not yet responded to Transnistria’s desire to join Russia, but has accused Moldova of preventing its troops – or “peacekeepers” – from reaching the region.
Chisinau denied the charges, saying the entry of new Russian soldiers would be illegal under existing agreements.
In addition to Russian troops, Transnistria is home to thousands of tons of ammunition.
As war rages on in Ukraine and fears simmer at home, Moldova’s foreign ministry calls again for the withdrawal of Russian troops and ammunition depots, as Transnistrian authorities express concern over the “accelerated modernization of the Moldovan military” and calls for reinforcement of Russian forces in the region.
“All this adds a certain tension, but as far as the statements of the so-called [Transnistrian] The authorities are concerned, there is nothing new, it is just smoke and mirrors,” said Moldovan security expert Valeriu Pașa.
“What we know since February 24 is that the Transnistria region itself does not pose a major threat to Moldova’s security, while the Russian Federation does,” he added.
On July 18, prosecutors said they had identified several bomb threats both in the country and abroad.
Moldovan President Maia Sandu has described the unfounded warnings as an attempt to destabilize the country.
“It’s something that bothers me, but for now I don’t think citizens need to worry,” Sandu said in a statement.
According to Flenchea, the former official, the threats became the subject of jokes and memes on social media after a few hundred warnings.
The speed at which the light of the threats was made is worrying, he said, explaining that the population may have become accustomed to a sense of instability.
But Vera, the pensioner, is not one of those who can joke.
“The purpose of these warnings is to hurt people,” she said. ‘No one is safe here’
Days after Moldova announced it had found the suspects of a bomb threat, a group called the Organization of the Himmler-Kult Nationalist-Socialists Fighters called for military action in Transnistria and an end to EU and NATO accession processes.