The yearly Mission Siberia 2016 has set off and, to date, has visited a number of Lithuanian deportees above Russia’s Arctic Circle. This year participants of the project will mostly visit graves of Lithuanian deportees in Igarka, a city in the Krasnoyarsk district above the Arctic Circle. The expedition includes 16 participants, who flew to Moscow and then boarded a four-hour flight from the Russian capital to Krasnoyarsk and travelled another three hours to Igarka.
Arnoldas Fokas, the leader of the expedition for the eighth time, says Igarka was chosen as the city that featured the highest concentration of deportees from Lithuania. The Mission Siberia project turned 10 years old in 2015.
The largest Lithuanian exile cemetery is located in Igarka in the Krasnoyarsk region.
“This year the expedition is slightly different: there is less travelling, but the tasks are slightly bigger than in the previous missions — to save one of the largest Lithuanian cemeteries in Siberia. This is an enormous task,” said Ignas Rusilas, the head of the charity fund Jauniems which organises Mission Siberia.
Expedition leader Fokas said that usually the Mission Siberia team would go to the southern part of Siberia, but this time they were travelling to a town above the Arctic Circle.
“There are no jobs in Igarka; everyone is trying to leave. Most of the exiles leave when the opportunity comes. Many of them returned to Lithuania after it announced its independence. I have communicated with the former Igarka mayor Elena Kigiene. She has also left Igarka and lives in another part of Russia,” said Fokas.
Between 5,000 and 10,000 Lithuanians were deported to Igarka in 1948. Most of them worked in the wood industry but Igarka Lithuanians formed a strong community there with dancing and song ensembles, even setting up sports teams.
The mission participants have handed postcards from Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaite to the deportees in the region.
Since 2006, expeditions of Lithuanian young people have travelled to 70 locations in Siberia to maintain the cemeteries of Lithuanian deportees who perished in Soviet prisons and forced-labour camps. Every year 100 presentations of that year’s Mission are held in Lithuania and beyond, which aim to foster historical memory and national patriotism among Lithuanian youth and remind people that Siberia is not only Russian territory, but a very broad concept and metaphor, encompassing the far-flung territories of other former Soviet Republics to which people were deported.