Day 5

7 Jul

Yesterday we came to Vilnius, Lithuania. It was part of Poland when my Grandmother lived here from birth to age 9.

Our city guide stops in front of the Lithuanian parliament.

“Okay,” she breathes out. She’s about to tell a story.

In 1990 Lithuania declared itself independent from the Soviet Union, much to the displeasure of Mikhail Gorbachev, head of the USSR. Between 1990 and 1991 there were many protests, she says, people fighting for independence.

“I was a student, so I participated in everything,” she tells us.

She says everyone felt sure the Soviets would attack the parliament in an attempt to squelch the movement toward independent. On 13 January 1991, thousands of people assembled outside the parliament. They linked arms. They felt sure no Soviets would fire on unarmed people and they wanted to protect their parliament. Everyone participated, with people bringing soup, bread and porridge to them. She smiles at this memory.

“We felt so sure of ourselves, so strong,” she says.

All was silent for a long while. At 11:00pm, on the radio they heard tank fire, but it wasn’t at them. It was at the TV tower. She says everyone began to run, but by the time they reached the tower (20 minutes away) it was too late.

Soldiers had fired into the crowd and even rolled their tanks right through it.

“One girl was caught under the tanks and crushed,” she tells us. “Doctors kept her alive for many hours, but they could do nothing because her insides were crushed, you know?”

“I remember blood. Fourteen people died and hundreds more were wounded, shot in their arms, their legs–I thought this would never happen, that soldiers would never fire on defenceless people.”

She begins to cry, apologising. She can see it all so vividly, she tells us.

My Grandmother hands her a kleenex.

“Freedom comes at a great cost,” she says.

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