What ini­tially was a hand­ful of pa­tri­otic zealots ready to do any­thing for the sake of the home­land, it has grown over the years into a well-stitched an­nual mis­sion of painstak­ingly se­lected par­tic­i­pants will­ing to eter­nal­ize the mem­o­ries of those per­ishe

The Baltic Times - - FRONT PAGE - Li­nas Jegele­vi­cius

What ini­tially was a hand­ful of pa­tri­otic zealots ready to do any­thing for the sake of the home­land, it has grown over the years into a well­stitched an­nual mis­sion of painstak­ingly se­lected par­tic­i­pants will­ing to eter­nal­ize the mem­o­ries of those per­ished in ex­ile. The Baltic Times sat down to speak about this year’s mis­sion, Mis­sion Siberia 2017 (Misija Sibi­ras 2017) to Li­u­das Siuk­steris, a mem­ber of the mis­sion.

Can you talk a lit­tle about this year‘s Mis­sion Siberia 2017, please?

This year, the Mis­sion Siberia 2017 team went to Irkutsk Oblast, a fed­eral sub­ject of Rus­sia, where we vis­ited, cleaned up and re­stored nine Lithua­nian ex­iles‘ ceme­ter­ies. What made our ex­pe­di­tion dis­tinc­tive com­pared to some of the pre­vi­ous ex­pe­di­tions was trav­el­ling from one vil­lage to an­other, try­ing to find and re­store as many ceme­ter­ies as pos­si­ble. We did not spend more than one to two nights at one camp­site - as soon as we would fin­ish clean­ing up one ceme­tery, we would move to an­other one. So, there is no won­der that we man­aged to travel over 100 kilo­me­ters on foot, and around 1,500 kilo­me­ters us­ing var­i­ous ve­hi­cles, including trucks, boats, etc.

How was the team se­lected for the mis­sion?

There were two se­lec­tion stages. The first stage re­quired sub­mit­ting a writ­ten ap­pli­ca­tion - each ap­pli­cant had to pro­vide in­for­ma­tion about him­self or her­self and prove mo­ti­va­tion to par­tic­i­pate in the ex­pe­di­tion. Over 900 peo­ple were in­ter­ested in par­tic­i­pat­ing in this year’s mis­sion and sub­mit­ted their ap­pli­ca­tions. How­ever, only 80 were se­lected to take part in the sec­ond se­lec­tion stage – a test hike, which took place in Kedainiai re­gion in cen­tral Lithua­nia, and lasted for two days, dur­ing which we hiked 50 kilo­me­ters. It was a great op­por­tu­nity to ex­am­ine our phys­i­cal ca­pa­bil­i­ties, our abil­ity to work in a team, and gauge each par­tic­i­pant’s mo­ti­va­tion. Out of 80 peo­ple who par­tic­i­pated in the test hike, 16 made it to the fi­nal team. Gladly, I was one of the folks.

What got you in­ter­ested in the ven­ture?

Be­ing a young Lithua­nian, I care about my coun­try’s his­tory no less than about its fu­ture. Mis­sion Siberia pro­vides a chance to seek some­thing re­ally mean­ing­ful - cher­ish the mem­ory of those who were ex­iled and did not get a chance to re­turn to their home­land. Love for my coun­try and ea­ger­ness to do some­thing im­por­tant for its sake is what mo­ti­vated me to get on board.

Can you talk of the prepa­ra­tions for the trip? Did you do on­line re­search of the re­gion you were set­ting off to?

Prepa­ra­tion for this kind of an ex­pe­di­tion is a time­con­sum­ing ac­tiv­ity, re­quir­ing spe­cific ex­pe­ri­ence and knowl­edge. Our ex­pe­di­tion’s leader Arnoldas Fokas was the one who re­searched the re­gion, its cer­tain vil­lages, and the ceme­ter­ies’ lo­ca­tions. In­for­ma­tion was re­searched not only on­line, but also by talk­ing to the peo­ple who were ex­iled. Some of them even man­aged to show lo­ca­tions of the ceme­ter­ies on a map very pre­cisely. A big help was au­then­tic pho­to­graphs of the ceme­ter­ies taken years ago.

Be­fore the trip, we vis­ited Lithua­nia’s Geno­cide and Re­sis­tance Re­search Cen­tre in Vil­nius and col­lected writ­ten mem­o­ries of ex­iled Lithua­ni­ans who came back to Lithua­nia. We also had a chance to visit and talk to peo­ple who had lived in the vil­lages that we were to visit. A day be­fore the begin­ning of the ex­pe­di­tion, I per­son­ally paid a visit to Pro­fes­sor Vyte­nis Rimkus who lives in Si­au­liai, and had been ex­iled to the Viesolyj vil­lage in Siberia. He shared his mem­o­ries about the vil­lage, ceme­tery, liv­ing con­di­tions in ex­ile and, in gen­eral, pro­vided some use­ful par­tic­u­lar­i­ties. The Viesolyj Ceme­tery was the last that our team vis­ited and re­stored.

What did your fa­ther warn you about be­fore the jour­ney?

Hon­estly, I did not re­ceive any par­tic­u­lar warn­ings from my fa­ther, but just be­fore I got on the train, he asked me how I was feel­ing. I re­mem­ber an­swer­ing him “strangely calm”. I felt so prob­a­bly be­cause I had ab­so­lutely no doubts about what I was go­ing to do. I felt very strong about my mo­ti­va­tion and ca­pa­bil­ity to take part in this mis­sion. And I just could not be more ex­cited.

Was it easy to reach the des­ti­na­tion?

Well, there were no ob­sta­cles reach­ing Irkutsk from Vil­nius to Moscow we trav­elled by train, and from Moscow to Irkutsk we flew by plane. Some of the far-flung

vil­lages we reached by dif­fer­ent means of trans­porta­tion, like mostly shut­tle buses. More ex­cit­ing jour­neys awaited us when we had to use trucks or boats in or­der to get across rivers. But largely, all went smoothly.

More dif­fi­cult were hikes from one vil­lage to an­other. In four days, we trav­elled over 100 kilo­me­ters. Tak­ing into ac­count the very hot cli­mate, car­ry­ing the heavy back­packs weigh­ing over 20 kg was quite chal­leng­ing.

And then comes your first en­counter with Irkutsk… What was the first im­pres­sion?

What we saw were di­lap­i­dated small vil­lages with a few dwellers and beau­ti­ful serene na­ture.

Who pro­vided you the lo­gis­tics, ac­com­mo­da­tion and as­sis­tance dur­ing the trip?

Trans­porta­tion, as well as other as­sis­tance, was pro­vided by lo­cals and lo­cal au­thor­i­ties. Since most of the nights we slept in tents, no ac­com­mo­da­tion was nec­es­sary. We would buy wood from lo­cal lum­ber mills.

How many peo­ple of Lithua­nian de­scent did you meet dur­ing the trekking? Can you share some of the sto­ries of the en­coun­ters?

We met eight peo­ple who have Lithua­nian roots. One of them was Al­bina, who was ex­iled when she was six along with her mother. She grew up in Siberia, fin­ished school and started a fam­ily there. Her son Rus­lanas re­mem­bers how his grand­mother would raise him by Lithua­nian tra­di­tions - with Lithua­nian songs, cui­sine. They would cel­e­brate all the tra­di­tional Lithua­nian hol­i­days.

Would you en­gage with the lo­cal folks in talk about pol­i­tics? Do the lo­cals re­ally sup­port the Rus­sian Gov­ern­ment and Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin?

Pol­i­tics was not the topic that we would dis­cuss with the lo­cals, so it is dif­fi­cult to com­ment on the lo­cals’ po­lit­i­cal views and affini­ties.

Were there any stress­ful or po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tions through­out the stay? Can you talk of them, please? Were you wary of bears in the forests?

The ex­pe­di­tion went well and ac­cord­ing to the neatly crafted plan - we did not face any dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tions. When we went on a two-day hike once, we had to walk through a for­est and we found bear foot­prints and other signs of their pres­ence in it. We had to con­tinue to un­ceas­ingly sing and talk loudly to keep us safe from en­coun­ter­ing the beasts. There was also a lit­tle bit of a stress­ful time when, for 20 kilo­me­ters, we were hik­ing with­out wa­ter un­der the scorch­ing sun, and we had to eat berries to stay hy­drated.

How would the lo­cals re­act af­ter find­ing out you were from Lithua­nia?

At first peo­ple seemed to be sur­prised when they found out where we were from and what had brought us there. But then peo­ple would ex­press their sup­port and show joy. In the end, lo­cals did un­der­stand our mis­sion and acted very pos­i­tively.

Did you see much poverty? Did you check out the lo­cal shops? What about the prices?

The vil­lages that we vis­ited were small and set to dis­ap­pear over the time.

Did you lo­cate any new ex­iles’ burial sites?

We did not lo­cate any new burial sites since our ex­pe­di­tion was planned day by day, and we vis­ited and re­stored those ceme­ter­ies about which we had in­for­ma­tion in ad­vance.

Has the trip changed in any way your per­cep­tion about Rus­sia? How?

I could not say that my per­cep­tion of Rus­sia has changed in one way or an­other af­ter the trip. It was not about dis­cov­er­ing Rus­sia, but about very clear work to be done there.

What are your other en­deav­ours for pay­ing re­spect to the fallen Lithua­ni­ans in ex­ile?

It is im­por­tant for us not to for­get this pain­ful pe­riod of our his­tory. Es­pe­cially young peo­ple must be aware of it. In up­com­ing years, we are go­ing to visit Lithua­nian schools, com­mu­ni­ties, and or­ga­ni­za­tions where we will present our ex­pe­di­tion, and en­cour­age peo­ple to re­mem­ber and talk about the pain­ful ex­ile pe­riod.

“When we went on a two-day hike once, we had to walk through a for­est and we found bear foot­prints and other signs of their pres­ence in it. We had to con­tinue to un­ceas­ingly sing and talk loudly to keep us safe from en­coun­ter­ing the beasts.”

An­other cross is to be placed into its slot

En­joy­ing snacks with a lo­cal woman of Lithua­nian de­scent

An­other at­tempt to roll a rain-soaked log

Let the flag wit­ness the nice work!

A mo­ment of so­bri­ety

The mis­sion team set off for an­other des­ti­na­tion

A vigil for those per­ished

When the rat­tling can be joy­ful…

We are the heroes!

The mis­sion re­quired stamina

An­other three crosses erected!

Meet­ing the lo­cals was ex­cit­ing

An­other log to saw!

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Latvia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.