And Then There Was One: Three People Lived in ThisVillage Until Two Were Murdered.
DOBRUSA, Moldova — Thirty years ago, the village ofDobrusa had about 200 residents. At the start of thisyear, it had just three.
Then two were murdered.
And now there is just one: Grisa Muntean, a short, mustachioed farmer often found in a flat-cap, a checked shirt and a ripped pair of bluetrousers held up by a drawstring.
For company, Mr. Muntean has his two cats, five dogs, nine turkeys, 15 geese, 42 chickens, about 50 pigeons, 120 ducks and several thousand bees. The other humans have either died, left for larger towns and cities in Moldova, or emigrated to Russia or other parts of Europe.
"The loneliness kills you," Mr. Muntean, 65, said on a recent afternoon.
His former neighbors' houses are vanishing almost as fast as their owners. With few animals tograze the roadsides, and with only Mr. Muntean to prune the orchards, the buildings aresinking below a canopy of walnut groves and apple trees.
Dobrusa (pronounced Doh-BROO-shuh) was once a village of 50 houses that lined twoparallel streets at the bottom of a shallow valley. Like many settlements across Moldova, itemptied out after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, an exodus mirrored across EasternEurope, which has the world's fastest shrinking population.
Now only a few corrugated iron roofs can still be seen in Dobrusa, poking above theundergrowth. They are visible from the dirt track that connects the village to the nearesttarmac road.
Even the village graveyard, set on the other side of the valley, is slowly receding into anundergrowth of nettles and brambles, grass flowers and cow parsley.
Plants like these are the closest Mr. Muntean has to neighbors.
"When I work, I speak with the trees," he said. "With the birds, with the animals, with my tools. There is no one else to talk to."
Until February, Mr. Muntean relied on the company of Gena and Lida Lozynsky, a couple in theirearly 40s who lived at the other end of the village.
The Lozynskys helped Mr. Muntean tend his small holding, and kept an eye on his home whenhe took his eggs and vegetables to the area market. The trio spoke, at least by phone, on anear-daily basis.
But one Sunday last February, the Lozynskys stopped answering Mr. Muntean's calls. He heardnothing from them on that Monday. When they failed to call him back on that Tuesday, heassumed he had done something to annoy them.
On the Wednesday, after a tipoff, the mayor of the surrounding area, Grigore Munteanu, visitedthe Lozynskys' home. In their garden, the mayor found the couple's cow, its udders unmilkedin days. Inside the cottage, he found their half-naked corpses, cold and bloodstained, lying onthe wooden floor.
An investigation found that the couple had been bludgeoned to death by a drunk laborer, afterhe and a fellow farmhand had tried to rape Ms. Lozynsky, the mayor said.
Six months on, their home is almost as they left it, with clothes strewn on the floor and a boxof powdered milk in the front window.
Their garden is already wild. Up on the hillside, their graves are being slowly submerged by theweeds. Within a few years, a visitor may struggle to find the gravestones, let alone rememberwho was buried there; Gena's mound is wrongly marked "Gheorghe."
Now, Mr. Muntean is the last survivor of a village that was first settled in the 19th century, when the area was part of the Russian Empire. According to local folklore, its first residentswere Ukrainians who had ultimately hoped to reach the United States (but missed their boat), and Moldovans who had fallen out with a landowner in another area.
The village prospered in the decades after World War II, when Moldova was folded into theSoviet Union. Dobrusa gained a shop, an elementary school, a summer camp for children anda village hall that showed films on Sundays. The collective farm provided work for all in thenearby wheat fields, vineyards and orchards.
But the collapse of the Soviet Union led to the decline of the collective system and theprivatization of the agriculture sector. To find jobs, many Moldovans left their villages — and tofind higher salaries, thousands left the country altogether. When Mr. Muntean, who had lived ina neighboring village, arrived in Dobrusa in 2000 to set up a small sheep farm, the village'spopulation had fallen to around 70, Mr. Muntean reckoned.
Between 1990 and 2015, Eastern Europe's population fell by 18 million people, to 292 million. About one in four Moldovans lives abroad, according to estimates by the United NationsDevelopment Program, while the resident population fell by 500,000 to 2.8 million betweenthe censuses of 2004 and 2014.
1990年至2015年间，东欧人口减少了1800万人，降至2.92亿人。据联合国开发计划署(United NationsDevelopment Program)估计，大约四分之一的摩尔多瓦人生活在国外，而2004年至2014年间的人口普查显示，居民人口变为280万人，减少了50万人。
In Dobrusa, most of those who remained were pensioners. The school closed in the late 1990s, along with the shop, the camp and the village hall.
"It started to feel like a ghost town," said Valentina Artin, who was born here in 1939. "It waslike a desert."
Ms. Artin left for the nearby village of Vadul-Leca in 2012 with her grandchildren, leaving nomore than 20 residents behind. Then the Ialii family left, and the Petermans. Old ColeaMasalkoski passed away, aged somewhere near 100, and so too did Mr. Lozynsky's mother, Klava.
Mr. Muntean's wife left him; and their four children, who had never actually moved to thevillage in the first place, emigrated to Spain.
By 2016, Dobrusa had three villagers.
Even Mr. Muntean's sheep had gone; with so few villagers to help him, he gave up the sheepfarm in 2013. Now even Mr. Muntean is considering leaving for a nearby town himself.
Yet, for all his loneliness, Mr. Muntean says there is a kind of joy to the peace and solitude. Hegrows his own vegetables and makes his own honey. He lives among nature, disturbed only bythe sound of his geese, in a valley he describes as a kind of heaven.
Besides, Mr. Muntean doesn't always feel so alone when he sits in his cluttered farmyard — next to his chicken coops, his greenhouses and his broken-down Lada — and gazes up at thevillage graveyard.
"Gena always said he'd be watching over me," Mr. Muntean said.
"And now he is."
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