2019.07.17 17:30

Mission Siberia team departs Vilnius to tend Lithuanian deportees' graves – photos, BNS 2019.07.17 17:30

Participants of the annual Mission Siberia departed for Kazakhstan after a ceremony at Vilnius Railway Station on Wednesday.

"It's great to see another group leaving," Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius said. "We gather here every year. I have the opportunity to take part in the seeing-off event for the seventh time."

"That memory is important in Lithuanian traditions [...] and, at the same time, [it's important] to spread the message upon returning," he added.

The minister handed out pedometers to the team.

The 16 participants of the ten-day expedition will tend to graves of deportees and political prisoners buried in Kazakhstan.

They team had intended to go to Russia, but just as in 2018, they had to change their plans after Russia refused to issue visas for a second successive year.

Viktoras Pranckietis, the speaker of Seimas, handed the team a Lithuanian tricolor and asked them to give it to the diaspora in Kazakhstan.

Aistė Eidukaitytė, the leader of the mission, told BNS that this year is special in that the team are taking with them a cross made by a former deportee.

The team are travelling to Karaganda and the surrounding areas to clean up Lithuanian deportees' graves and to try and find unknown, neglected burial sites. They also plan to meet with local Lithuanians or their descendants, and also visit derelict Soviet forced-labour camps.

"There are hundreds of burial sites there, a lot of them. Last year, the team managed to find 200 Lithuanian graves, and we hope that the number will not be lower this year," Eidukaitytė said.

"It seems that Karaganda is in for intense heat, but the team is ready for everything," she added.

Over 150 Lithuanian burial sites in Russia, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan have been tended to since the launch of Mission Siberia expeditions back in 2006.

About 280,000 people from Lithuania were sent to forced-labour camps, or deported during the Soviet occupation period.