Author: Tadas Kazakevičius


Siberian exile. Nearly every family in Lithuania has its own story about it, whether it was a tragic or simply sad one. Even today, this topic still touches each one of us very personally. There is never an easy way to approach it: it has become an almost sacred part of the Lithuanian history.

Starting from the first Soviet occupation in 1940 and gradually ending just after the death of the brutal oppressor Stalin in 1953, the mass deportation of Lithuanian people was a horrible stain in our national history. At least 130,000 of our nearest and dearest, neighbours and friends were forcefully taken to the furthest Soviet destinations, with about 70 % of them being women and children. The other part, making up 150,000 men, were imprisoned in different sections of the Gulag, but that is another gruesome story.

With the help of a few dedicated men and women, who took huge risks on these journeys, more than 250 children orphaned due to the deportations were brought back to Lithuania to their closest relatives. Some of them were even taken back home illegally, not having any approving documents. By rescuing the children from exile, those dedicated adults risked their own freedom and even lives.

This is the story about the life of these children. About the winters of their lives, spent in deep Siberian snow, cutting down forests along with their parents and siblings. The one about the spring of their lives, which came with the long-awaited journey back to their homeland that they dreamed about. A story about the summer of their lives, told by the ones who are still alive and celebrating their being. True, it is also a story about the difficult fate of all the children of exile: some buried here, under the light and precious ground of their homeland, others, unfortunately, extinguished prematurely and left somewhere out there – in the ever-frost, or still finding themselves at loose ends, blown by the harsh and never-tiring Siberian winds.

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In 1946, six official expeditions took place with the aim to help and bring back Lithuanian children in Siberia, whose parents had been dead or in a condition where they could not take care of them anymore. The children were to be taken back from the exile in Siberia to their relatives in Lithuania. Starting from the personal initiative by Marija Nemeikšaitė, a prominent social figure of the time, the expeditions were later followed by many other personal inquiries, so that it became hard for the Soviet Lithuanian government to ignore the action any longer.

Jonas Bulota, Karolis Gerulaitis, Marcelinas Ignatavičius, Ona Jakubėnaitė, Vladas Kaikaris, Petras Monstavičius, Jonas Bulota, Karolis Gerulaitis, Juozas Zakarauskas and Antanina Kuznecova are just a few names of the people who were involved in this precedent. Without them, it would have been impossible to make these journeys. The expeditions visited the Russian regions of Altai, Komi, Tomsk, Ural and Yakutia. Some of such journeys took place unofficially, during which many other children in exile were saved. Even though in small numbers, they are important nonetheless.

According to official sources, these expeditions brought more than 250 children back to their native Lithuania. Today Teresė Laimutė, Algis, Dainora, Giedrius, Gražina, Almantas, Ligija, Algimantas and Margarita are not any more just numbers on the list, but individuals carrying their true stories and memories. Their stories have been written down, their precious belongings that they held on their journey back home to remember that which was once so dear to them, have been looked and touched upon, and the homes of their childhoods have been visited. Some of those have survived until today, even though they have already been inhabited by someone else’s life stories – and for some, they only remain a field with an old tree rustling in the wind.

One of the original wagons in which exiles were taken to Siberia. Utena, 2020.

Train tracks in Siberia. Gražina Linkevičiūtė-Giedraitienė’s personal archive.

Teresė Laimutė Bliūdžiūtė-Kalavinskienė

(1932 - 2021)

Teresė standing next to the former orphanage that she was taken to after she returned to Lithuania. Vilnius, 2020.

“Of the people that died during my childhood, many of them were children. I still remember the first death that really affected me. Jurgis Šalkauskas was just 17 years old, and had severe tuberculosis. Every day we’d bring fresh pine branches to help him breathe, and we’d pray as he lay in bed, continually gasping. For a child, it’s very scary to see your friends die.”

Teresė holds her late mother’s cross. Vilnius, 2020.

The funeral of one-year-old Aldutė Joana Raštikytė, the daughter of General Stasys Raštikis, who defected to the West, and Marija Elena Smetonaitė-Raštikytė. Kamenis near Obė, Kamensky District, Altai Krai, 26 July 1941. Vytautas the Great War Museum archive. Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania archive.

A section of the railway near Vilnius that was used to bring the children home to Lithuania. Vilnius, 2020.

A section of the railway near Vilnius that was used to bring the children home to Lithuania. Vilnius, 2020.

Algimantas Stakėnas

born 1938

Algimantas sits on a fallen tree at his childhood home. Sipeliai, 2020.

“My life in exile was hard, as we lived in dug-out. When our mother went to work, she’d stick a pole on the top so she could find it in the snow when she returned. All day we’d sing the same song: “Eat, eat, we want to eat”. Sometimes no one would dig us out for a couple of days in a row. We’d often look for potatoes in the fields that people had missed when harvesting them. It was a treasure for us”.

Algimantas’ mother’s letters are the only things that remind him of his life in Siberia. Sipeliai, 2020.

Letter from exiled sick mother to his brother in Lithuania on issue of return of their children. (Algimantas Stakėnas personal archive).


April 10, 1946

Dear Alfonsas!

I got your letter, and I’m very thankful that you didn’t forget us. And thank you for the 50 roubles that you sent in April. I got the newspapers and the elementary book from which Dalia and Algis are learning to read and write.

As you were writing about getting permission for the children to return home, I didn’t get it, as they told me the children are too small and won’t get back alone. I wasn’t at the executive committee, but at the NKVD. They’re looking into all of our matters, and will decide. They said that when an escort will come then we’ll see what can be done.

It’s already spring, and there’s not much snow. We’re sending you all of our best regards for Easter and the spring.

At home, both of our parents are dead, so we don’t know who’ll take over our farm…

Dainora Tamošiūnaitė-Urbonienė

born 1932

Dainora stands in a garden where her childhood home used to be. Raguva, 2020.

“Block 60 will be our cemetery.” I still remember someone saying this when we arrived. And they were right. Before we were moved to block 82, we buried our little brother, Arutis. I still remember his cold hand that I was holding when he, still so little, passed away. Even though block 60 was so unfortunate for us, it was still so sad to leave it. Arutis’ grave was left there, never to be visited again.”

Dainora holds her father’s passport. She didn’t take anything home from Siberia, but by accident she found and bought it back after finding it at an auction. Raguva, 2020.

Postcard of Belorussky train station in Moscow, one of the last stops on the children’s trip home. Postcard from auction listing.

Giedrutis Laucius

born 1935

Giedrius sits next to a group of trees at the site of his childhood home. Kilėviškiai, 2020.

“I still remember the final journey before arriving in Barnaul, from where we were taken to Lithuania. Myself and my sister climbed on to the roof of the train, and held onto the chimney and each other. There was no place on the train for us, but eventually found somewhere and were able to return home. After we returned there was another blow. Both of us had malaria. There was no quinine, and we almost died. But here I am. I was lucky.”

Giedrius holds the branch of a tree. He took nothing back to Lithuania to remind him of his family’s exile. Kilėviškiai, 2020.

Deportee Janiseliene with her children (from left); Jonas, Emilija, Aldona and Algirdas cutting trees in the taiga, preparing firewood. Irkutsk region of the RSFSR, Zima District, Ikonikai village, 1949. Lithuanian Central State archive.

Postcards sent from exile by Algimantas’ mother Uršulė to his uncles. Algimantas Stakėnas’ personal archive.

Alfonsas Jakubėnas

Jasinskio Street 6-3
Lithuanian SSR

Barnaul, Altai
I. Stakėnienė

Kazys Jakubėnas
Trakai Street 23


The former orphan house No.5 in Vilnius, where most of the children had to spend their time waiting for their next of kin to collect them. Vilnius, 2021.

The former orphan house No.5 in Vilnius, where most of the children had to spend their time waiting for their next of kin to collect them. Vilnius, 2021.

Funeral of a child of neighbours. Pranė Grumadienė, Valentinas Grumadas and Angelė Grumadaitė mourning the child. Igarka, Igarka Gorsovet, Krasnoyarsk Krai, 28 July 1948. Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania archive.

Gražina Linkevičiūtė-Giedraitienė

born 1931

Gražina stands in a field next to her childhood home. Kalevai, 2020.

“I was 11 years old when my mother died. The only way to feed ourselves was to collect small fish that had been thrown away at the docks. Sadly, my brother died at 19 from starvation. Later I was taken in by another family. It was a miracle. When I returned to Lithuania, they took us to the orphanage where I tasted potatoes and borsch for the first time. I still remember the ladies who worked in the kitchen. They cried when they watched us eating. I suppose it was such a sad thing to see, but at that moment, we were the happiest children on Earth.”

Gražina holds a picture drawn by a childhood friend of the local exile cemetery in Mys Mastach. Kalevai, 2020.

Aloyzas Jonas Žitkevičius at his “zemlyanka” with his dogs – helpers of communication in the North. Tit Arai, Bulun District, Yakutia ASSR, 1950. Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania archive.

Jonas Bijeika

born 1937

Jonas stands next to the place where his family home used to be. Behind him stands an oak tree that his father planted for his birth. Plausgailiai, 2020.

“I was ill in bed for almost two years before I returned home. I’d move about on my stomach, and I didn’t even own a pair of shoes. Because of the lack of food and vitamins, my legs wouldn’t work, although I tried really hard to get on my feet. Today, it’s all just a bad dream from my childhood.”

Jonas holds the document that allowed him to return to Lithuania. Plausgailiai, 2020.

Postcard of Lenin's Mausoleum in Moscow. There was an order from the government to show the children the greatness of the Soviet leaders, and to explain to them to whom they should be thankful for their return home. Postcard from auction listing.

Mina river in spring. Piles of logs stacked on the banks, ready for floating. Jurgis Endziulaitis and Vytautas Kudzevičius standing on the logs. Mina, Partizanskoye District, Krasnoyarsk Krai, 1950. Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania archive.

Almantas Laužadis

born 1938

Almantas stands next to the home he was taken from as a baby in 1940. Jūžintai, 2020.

We lived in a dug-out that we shared with the Jasinevičius family. One night, Mr. Jasinevičius entered it and was collapsing from wall to wall. There was no alcohol to be found, so I was sure that he wasn’t drunk. Later it became clear to me that he was collapsing from grief, as his baby boy, Vytukas, had just died from the cold.”

Almantas holds his school diploma, the last thing that connects him to his former life in Siberia. Jūžintai, 2020.

Unidentified children. Cape Bykov, Bulun District, Yakutia ASSR, 1950-1958. Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania archive.

Note issued by the Lithuanian SSR Board of Education, allowing Algimantas and his sister Dalia to return from exile. Almantas Laužadis’ personal archive.

Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic
Ministry of Education

Vilnius, October 19, 1946


It is noted that by Resolution No.3363, signed on May 4, 1946 by the Supreme Council of the Lithuanian SSR, the following orphans are allowed to return to their relatives in the Lithuanian Soviet Socialistic Republic from the Altai region.

1. Stakėnas Algis, Romo 6
2. Stakėnaitė Dalia, Romo 8

This certificate has been issued to the Stakėnas family for delivery to the relevant institutions upon registration.

Deputy Minister of Education of the Lithuanian SSR, J. Šalkauskas

Ligija Vanagaitė

born 1938

Ligija stands near to the place where her childhood home used to be, and where all of her family were taken from. Tilvikai, 2020.

“Even to this day, I still can’t believe how Stalin sent my father to a work camp close to the Chinese border for five years. I still remember him being escorted by men with dogs to the waiting car. After my mother died from simple tonsillitis, he was the only one left who was close to us. Can you imagine how bad the situation must be if you die from tonsillitis?”

Ligija holds the only reminder of her father in Siberia in the form of his land ownership document, which was greatly treasured and protected during exile. Tilvikai, 2020.

Ligija’s mother’s funeral in Siberia. Her father and aunt stand next to a coffin. Ligija Vanagaitė’s personal archive.

Algimantas Jakučionis

born 1938

Algimantas stands in the field in front of his childhood home from where he and his family were sent into exile. Šiauliai, 2020.

“I don’t remember my mother or my father. I was only one when we were sent to Siberia. My father, who was separated from us straight away, died in the Reshoty work camp very quickly. My mother, to my worst luck, and still hard to believe to this day, was struck by lightning whilst sheltering from a storm under a tree whilst harvesting the hay. I was an orphan from that moment on.”

Algimantas holds the last thing that connects him to his mother. He took the cross, his only possession, home to Lithuania in 1946. Šiauliai, 2020.

Barbora Smetonienė with her granddaughters Meilutė Marija Raštikytė and Laimutė Julija Raštikytė. The NKVD took them to Lithuania to lure their father, General Stasys Raštikis, who was living in Germany at the time. The girls were smuggled out by relatives. “Clothes were bought for the shipment to Lithuania, replacing our rags. Faces and bellies swollen with hunger.” Barnaul, Barnaul District, Altai Krai, 1946. Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania archive.

Margarita Smilingytė-Misevičienė

born 1930

Margarita stands in a field close to the home from where she and her family were sent into exile. Plungė, 2020.

“One of the most treasured recollections from my life there was my shoes. Most children had worn-out prisoners’ shoes that they’d wear until they fell off their feet, or they’d walk around barefooted. I couldn’t believe my luck, as in the same barrack as us was an old, one-handed German cobbler who made me some shoes. On my trip home, these shoes were one of my most valuable possessions, I wouldn’t even take them off when I was sleeping, so no one could take them away from me.”

Margarita holds the only photograph she has to remind her of her childhood with her parents in Lithuania before the war. Plungė, 2020.

Expeditor Jonas Bulota's notepad, including part of the list of the children that he had to collect from different Siberian regions. Vilnius University Library manuscripts division, Jonas Bulota’s personal archive.

Exile cemetery in Lithuania. Ginkūnai, 2020.

Jonas Bulota’s daughter kneels next to her father’s grave. Jonas was one of the people given the task of returning the children to Lithuania. Vilnius, 2020.

A letter to Jonas Bulota from one of the children who couldn’t be picked up. Vilnius University Library manuscript division, Jonas Bulota’s personal archive.


Yesterday we got the postcard, and today the letter. It’s very nice that you don’t forget us. Of course there isn’t much time to do other things whilst preparing for exams. I totally understand. I’ve had to prepare for them myself in the past. But I do ask you to not forget far and cold Yakutsk, and our small apartment there… the grey kitten… and maybe sometimes our hosts there. You can’t imagine how much happiness every word that we hear about our unreachable and precious homeland which for us now is further than the moon and stars gives us. You can’t believe how much power and hope every letter of yours gives us! So please do write. It’s our food. And for you, it’s just couple minutes wasted.

Jonas, please do write about the responses. My mother maybe already said to you, and I can repeat it, but no one talks about you here. For the fist couple of days there was some talk and some sorrow. Someone was praised, someone was blamed, and it suddenly became quiet. It’s all ok in the other place as well. Although the leaving part was very a hard thing for the ones that weren’t taken. I don’t know how it will all, end as there’s no possibility to move without any personal documents.

It’s all ok with me. Twenty-six years of life. But with mother, not too good. Her mood is terrible. No hope at all. I always was dreaming about you coming back, but as I understood from your last letter, there isn’t much hope. So, I decided not to have any hopes because it might be a hard disappointment. And in our life, it’s…

The seashore cemetery in Mys Bykov where a lot of exiled Lithuanians were buried. Many exiles still remember the heavy storms, when all of the crosses and graves were washed away. Gražina Linkevičiūtė-Giedraitienė’s personal archive.

The statue of Stalin that stood in front of the train station in Vilnius now rests at the Soviet sculpture park in the Lithuanian village of Grūtas, ironically alone and in the woods. This statue was the first thing that the children often saw when returning to Lithuania. Grūtas, 2021.

On 8 March 1953, the official newspaper of the Soviet Ministry of Defence, Krasnaya Zvezda (Red Star), announces the death of Stalin. This event marks the end of the deportations to Siberia. Author's personal archive.

We endured. We survived.

An exile song „Autumn wind“ is sung by
Ašašninkai village singer Jaunutis Margelis.

Project supported by Lithuanian Council for Culture.