Moldova’s population is made up of several ethnic groups. Three quarters of the people define themselves as ethnic Moldovans. Ethnic Ukrainians and Russians are the next largest groups. Russians migrated to Moldova after World War II and mainly settled in the cities. Just less than 5% of the population are Gagauz (see below), and there are also Bulgarians (2%) and Jews (1.4%). There is also a sizeable Gypsy, or Roma, community in the far north of Moldova. The King of the Gypsies actually lives in an ornamented palace in Soroca. His predecessor is buried in nearby Otaci; his casket can be viewed in a subterranean sitting room with a bullet proof glass cover.
The Gagauz are a Turkic people living mostly in southern Moldova in the autonomous territory of Gagauzia. The people speak Gagauz, a Turkish dialect, in addition to Russian. Bulgarians came to Moldova at the end of 18th century. They too live predominately in the south.
Jews started settling in Moldova – Bessarabia – after 1800. However, their numbers were greatly reduced during World War II. Most people of Jewish origin live in urban areas of Moldova.
The official language is Romanian (Moldovan). It is Romance language which is derived from Latin and is written using the Latin alphabet. In 1938, the Soviet government mandated that the Cyrillic alphabet to be used. In 1989, the Latin alphabet was reinstated.
Russian is the second most widely spoken language in Moldova today. The Russian language has been given the status of a "language of interethnic communication" (alongside the official language). Ukrainian, Gagauz, and Bulgarian are also spoken, but to a lesser extent. There are significant regional populations of Gagauz and Ukrainian speakers and the languages have also been granted official status in Gagauzia and Transnistria respectively.
Christianity is the predominant religion in Moldova. Nearly 96% of the population belongs to the Eastern Orthodox Church, including the Gagauz, who unlike many other Turkic people, are Orthodox Christians. During Soviet times, the government strictly limited the activities of the Orthodox Church (and all religions). Many Orthodox churches and monasteries in Moldova were destroyed or converted to other uses, such as warehouses and schools and libraries, and clergy were sometimes punished for leading services. Many believers continued to practice their faith in secret.
In the early 1990s, Jewish religious leaders opened a synagogue in Chisinau for the six Jewish communities of worship throughout the country. Moldova's government created a Department of Jewish Studies at Chisinau State University, opened of a Jewish high school in Chisinau, and introduced classes in Judaism in high schools in several cities. The government also provides financial support to the Society for Jewish Culture.
Other religious denominations in Moldova are the Armenian Apostolic Church, Seventh-Day Adventists, Baptists, Pentecostals, and Molokans (a Russian Orthodox sect).