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Siberia (Russia)

Siberia is among the most dreadful words to a Lithuanian. Over 300 000 Lithuanian people have been expelled to Siberia by the Soviet occupational regime as a part of the Soviet Genocide there (1940-1953). Many were either then killed or worked to death in forced labor camps, or succumbed to the harsh climate and conditions. This was a taboo topic while the Soviet Union still existed: many of the exiled people were buried in the mass graves while the rest had only modest wooden crosses built for them. However, as Lithuania restored its independence, many Lithuanians built (or tried to built) memorials there.

Siberia, which is larger than entire Europe in area, is extremely cold (temperatures drop to -70 C in winter). Villages and towns here are surrounded by hundreds or thousands of kilometers of uninhabited grounds: this rendered escapes impossible and was the reason why these lands were chosen to expel those Soviets saw as their enemies. The largest expulsions of Lithuanians took place in 1941 and soon after 1944, using cattle carriages. In a single week of June 1941, 2% of the entire Lithuanian population was rounded up and forcibly expelled. Some were expelled to forced labor camps while others to simple villages. Women and children were expelled as well and, in total, more than 50% of victims were either women or children. Many (in some places the majority) died or were killed. Far-flung Siberian villages thus were peppered with meager Lithuanian graves and cemeteries, modest little crosses. After the death of Stalin, in 1953, most of the expellees who were still alive at the time were permitted to leave Siberia, making the graves of their dead relatives and friends no longer cared for. After the 1990 independence of Lithuania, many Lithuanians have tried to find these graves and bring the remains of their relatives to Lithuania; some of the remaining graves were cared for by Lithuanian projects such as "Mission: Siberia". The sites of many burials will never be known: many people (especially babies) died en-route to Siberia and were buried near the local train stations; other graves have completely crumbled; yet other exiles were buried by the regime in unmarked mass graves.

Lithuanian graves in Siberia. Image by Mission: Siberia project.

While technically Siberia is sometimes considered to be only a part of Russian Asia, in the Lithuanian minds, "Siberia" is the entire "Cold part of Russia where people were expelled to", thus it includes what is elsewhere known as "Russian Far East" or "Russian North".

The scale of genocide in Siberia far outflanked its Lithuanian victims. Many ethnic groups were expelled in their entirety, often losing their language and more than 50% members in the process. Despite being the place of one of the largest mass persecutions and killing campaigns in history, Siberia lacks any massive official memorials to its victims. As the current Russian government sees Russia as the continuing state of the Soviet Union, it seeks to gloss over the scariest parts of Soviet/Russian history.

Still, during the time Russia flirted with democracy ~1989-1992, the former deportees (and their descendants) themselves have built or commissioned numerous monuments in the following places:
*Vorkuta, Komi Republic - next to the sole surviving 26th mine cemetery near Yur Shor settlement.
*Abez, Komi Republic - next to prisoner cemetery, where the graves are marked by simple posts, Lithuanians built a monument "Flaming cross" with an inscription "To those who did not return". Lev Karsavin is also buried in this cemetery. He was an ethnic Russian who was forced to flee the Russian Revolution in 1922 and settled down in Lithuania, only to be captured by the Soviet Union together with the entire Lithuania, deported to Abez where he died.
*Inta, Komi Republic - crumbling cemetery received a monument with Rūpintojėlis (a traditional Lithuanian image of sad Jesus). Lithuanian graves are marked by crosses, one of them is marked by columns of Gediminas. Nearby is a memorial to Latvians who were also persecuted here. Interestingly, it was constructed in secret in 1956 while Latvia and Lithuania were still under deep Soviet occupation. It was likely saved by a neutral inscription "To the land of birth".
*Ezhva, Komi Republic - a metal cross was built. Its concrete postament has an inscription: "To those exiled in 1941".
*Ust Lekchim, Komi Republic - a modest memorial that resembles a gravestone has been built.
*Igarka, Krasnoyarsk Krai - a commemorative plaque has been unveiled at the regional museum.
*Norilsk, Krasnoyarsk Krai - three crosses (one Lithuanian, one Latvian, one Estonian) have been erected together with a triangular pyramid. This memorial reminds Lithuanian, Latvian, and Estonian soldiers who were expelled here in 1941 (45% have died even before their court dates due to persecutions). The monument is called "Golgotha of Norilsk" and is located at 69.321478, 88.165383. The soldiers have also been imprisoned north of Norilsk near lake Lama, where a 9 m height chapel-post was erected (sculptor Algimantas Sakalauskas, approximate coordinates 69.49373799, 90.68503785).

Memorials for Lithuanians near lake Lama near Norilsk. Photos by Algimantas Sakalauskas.

Memorials for Lithuanians near lake Lama near Norilsk. Photos by Algimantas Sakalauskas.

*Reshoty, Krasnoyarsk Krai - here Lithuanian intellectuals were imprisoned after separating them from their families. This
*Biysk, Altai Krai - a small red obelisk with Columns of Gediminas symbol on it was built.
*Lithuanians exiled to Altai Krai, mainly women, in many cases were exiled the second time to Yakutia (Lena River Delta). Such "repeated exiles" were common when Lithuanians were already "too comfortable" in the first place of exile, according to the regime. Monuments for Lithuanians were thus also built at Tit Ary settlement, Trofimovsk island.
*Chelyan, Buryatia Republic - in Chelyan cemetery a large cross for all the Lithuanians was erected in 1956 by the exiles who had been finally permitted to leave the place. The inscription poem reads "We are from the land of amber / a respectful homeland Lithuania / without script, who would be able to read the hardships / suffered by its heroes".
*Kolyma, Magadan Oblast - this Soviet concentration camp was infamous for its cruelty even by Russian standards. Thus, in 1995, Russians themselves built a memorial "Mask of sadness" here. Next to it, Lithuanians put a stone formed as a Cross of Vytis.

It is impossible to know if all the aforementioned memorials still stand. The Russian government does not look after them and the local Russians sometimes destroy them. "Mission: Siberia" expeditions to take care of the exiled Lithuanians' graves and monuments are no longer permitted; some cities are in the areas of Russia where no foreigners are allowed. For example, in 1990-1991 the returning exiles have built identical ~5 m tall Lithuanian crosses in all the places of Altay Kray where Lithuanians were expelled at. However, when checked ~2003, only a single one of those crosses was surviving and even that one had its commemorative plaque removed.

After Vladimir Putin came to power in Russia (1999), Russia essentially banned building monuments for exiled Lithuanians. In 2005, Lithuania had agreed with Yakutsk municipality to construct a memorial for Lithuanian exiles in Yakutsk that was paid for by Lithuania. However, the central government of Russia banned it and the monument thus had to be built in Vilnius instead (Aukų g.). As such, much of the 21st-century commemorative effort for the exiles has been concentrated on Kazakhstan, where some 20% of the total exiles were expelled and which is now independent of Russia.

By the way, some Soviet officials talked about expelling all the Lithuanians from Lithuania (Mikhail Suslov: "There will be Lithuania but without the Lithuanians"). This was what happened to Crimean Tatars, Chechens, Inguishetians, Kalmyks, and numerous other ethnicities. If this would have happened, this website would not exist: those ethnic groups that were expelled en-masse typically lost their culture and often the language. They also lost more than half of their population by the time they were allowed to return.

In the 1970s and later some Lithuanians participated in the settling of Siberia on their own free will (i.e. for a salary) as well. For example, Kogalym (a 50000-strong oil town in Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug) was constructed by Lithuanian, Latvian, and Estonian workers ~1980. That's why it now has Vilnius, Baltic, Tallinn streets, a cinema "Jantar" (Amber), and hosts houses built in the Alytus house plant. As the Soviet government was building a new railway across Siberia called Baikal-Amur Mainline, each of the Soviet-ruled republics had to build a station there. In 1976, Lithuania built a station at Novy Uoyan (pop. 4000), Buryatia.

By the way, the expulsions of Lithuanians (and other prisoners or persecuted peoples) to Siberia did not start in the 20th century. In the 19th century, when Lithuania was ruled by the Russian Empire, Siberia as well as the Volga area was the destination for expelling those who participated in the revolts against Russia. They would be expelled on foot rather than in trains. The place where most survived from this time is located not in Siberia but in the Volga area, Chernaya Padina village and around. When Lithuanians were expelled here in the mid-19th century, it was still an uninhabited steppe. In that particular area, Lithuanians formed the majority of the population, thus allowing their language and culture to survive for well over a century. One nearby village was even called Litovka and the local pond (dug by Lithuanians) is still referred to by locals as the Lithuanian pond. Lithuanians also had a church there but it was demolished by the Soviets. A new chapel was built in 2004, founded by J. Kazickas - a Chernaya-Padina-born Lithuanian-American businessman. There are Lithuanian inscriptions about the area's history on the chapel and elsewhere. While the Lithuanian Catholic religious life was repressed by the Soviets and many Lithuanians left the area for good and repatriated to Lithuania quickly after the ~1920 Russian Revolution, all in all, here the Lithuanian culture was not destroyed because the forefathers of Chernaya Padina Lithuanians fought against Czarist Russia rather than Soviet Russia. During the Soviet times, they were thus able to say that they are descendants of "revolutionaries" (akin to communists) rather than descendants of "anti-Russian guerillas".

These days, Lithuanian communities exist in Irkutsk, Novosibirsk, Altay Region, and around Murmansk.

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