There are at least 500 Lithuanian burial sites in Siberia, many of them neglected. Local Lithuanian communities, former deportees and their children make effort to upkeep these monuments to one of the most tragic moments in the nation’s history.
People from the Lithuanian embassy in Russia have also recently visited some of the sites in Tomsk Oblast.
“I think it is very important that we memorialise the sites where Lithuanians are buried, their memory. This is the work that we do not forget. There are still many places within the wide expanses of Russia where people are buried, but they are forgotten,” said Remigijus Motuzas, Lithuania’s Ambassador to Russia.
Tomsk Oblast was one of the main destinations were Lithuanian deportees would end up in the 1940s and 1950s. In 1951 alone, over 4,000 people from Lithuania were deported there.
While many perished and some were allowed to return home after Stalin’s death ushered a political thaw in the Soviet Union, there are still Lithuanians who live in Tomsk.
“Lithuania connected us: We used to live in Tomsk separately, but once we started making trips to Lithuania, organizing commemorative events, this united us,” says Svetlana Jarumbavičiūtė, a deportee.
Lithuanians would be sent to settlements in Siberia that did not even have names, only numbers. For example, there was Quarter 86, where over 200 Lithuanians used to live. All houses in Quarter 86 are in severe disrepair, there is not even a shop or a medical point.
“Good people. I have many Lithuanian acquaintances. They live abroad now, but they phone me up and send their wishes,” says Nastya Kirsanova, a resident of Quarter 86.
“There are many Lithuanians buried in our cemetery. They were good people.”
Lithuanian groups organize annual trips to Siberia to find and maintain Lithuanian cemeteries. Ambassador Motuzas says that the new wooden crosses erected on these burial sites should last about 20 years.
In the future, he adds, there are plans to mark each Lithuanian burial site with metal crosses.