Mission Siberia

  • 2010-07-21
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis

BACK FROM SIBERIA: On July 16, Evaldas Ignatavicius, Lithuania’s vice-minister of foreign affairs (right), and a participant of the Mission Siberia of young Lithuanians returned from the Sverdlovsk region of Russia, shown here at the Vilnius Railway Station.

VILNIUS - On July 16, 20 young Lithuanians arrived at the Vilnius Railway Station, back from their mission in Russia’s Sverdlovsk region. Lithuania’s Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Evaldas Ignatavicius and other officials welcomed the participants of the expedition Mission Siberia 2010. During two weeks in Siberia, the young Lithuanians cleared the cemeteries of Soviet-era Lithuanian deportees and constructed wooden crosses there. They also met with some descendants of Lithuanian deportees still living there.

It was the eighth Mission Siberia. Such expeditions of young Lithuanians started in 2006. The missions are organized by the Lithuanian Youth Council. The expeditions are very popular and those willing to join need to pass a big competition, which is mostly related to physical capabilities. Expeditions are financed by state institutions. The Lithuanian Foreign Ministry donated 70,000 litas (20,273 euros) last year and 20,000 litas this year. The Lithuanian government gave 30,000 litas this year. Although the expeditions are named Mission Siberia, in the past they also visited the Soviet-era deportation places in Kazakhstan as well.

During the Soviet occupation, Lithuania sustained heavy losses. Every third Lithuanian became a victim of Soviet terror. Altogether, some 600,000 prisoners were taken from the Soviet occupied Baltic states - Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. There were some 10 million inhabitants in all three Baltic states on the eve of the Soviet occupation. Proportionately, the number of Baltic prisoners would be equal to a loss of 20 million in the United States, or five million in Great Britain.
During 1940-1953, some 132,000 Lithuanians were deported to remote areas of the USSR: Siberia, the Arctic Circle zone and Central Asia. They were not allowed to leave the remote villages there. More than 70 percent of the deportees were women and children, i.e. 50,000 women and 39,000 children. Some 30,000 of the deportees died there, mostly because of slave work and starvation. During the same period, another 200,000 Lithuanians were thrown into prisons. Some 150,000 of them were sent to the Gulags, the USSR’s concentration camps, situated mostly in Siberia.

Expeditions of Mission Siberia are visiting those places. “During this expedition we made some order in two big cemeteries and three small ones. We went 60 kilometers on foot during the expedition,” Gintautas Alekna, who is the head of all Mission Siberia expeditions, said at the Vilnius Railway Station.
“It was an extreme expedition,” said Kristina Medziausyte, an 18-year old schoolgirl from the town of Siauliai, about the travel led by clouds of Siberian mosquitoes.