In the fourth week of the war in Ukraine, there was a brief note in the Western press about Ukrainian civilians being forcibly transported by the Russians from Eastern Ukraine to Russia. The report was quickly overshadowed by the more graphic news coverage of Ukrainian civilians targeted in the cities. A few days later, it seems the relocation of Ukrainians was forgotten.

The number of deported Ukrainian civilians was small in comparison to the number of their peers in the cities who were under daily bombardment by rocket and artillery fire. But the capture and deportation of civilians must not go unnoted or ignored.

On May 17, about 1,700 Ukrainian fighters surrendered in Mariupol. More than 100,000 Ukrainian civilians also became imperiled by Russian captivity and imminent deportation to Russia.

Putin revived a tactic from Stalin’s era, a form of ethnic cleansing, a campaign to denationalize a region, and to exterminate a nation. It is an atrocity against humanity, and a war crime.

The forcible relocation of Ukrainian civilians to Russia revived a recollection from my childhood under Stalin’s tyranny.

It was in the spring of 1940, in the seventh year of my life. Lithuania had fallen prey to Stalin’s Soviet occupation. Russian oppressors deported many of my neighbors and my relatives to Siberia. It was Stalin’s effort to denationalize my homeland.

My parents and I lived on a farm that was my grandfather’s ancestral home. Our farm was seven kilometers from a small city called Marijampole. A road to town passed on the boundary of our farm, a short distance from our orchard. There, hidden out of sight, I watched the traffic on the road, and witnessed the deportations.

Almost daily, a truck with Russian soldiers drove past our farm transporting our neighbors and relatives to the railroad station to be deported to Siberia.

Each time a truck drove by, women in the nearby fields, paused their work, kneeled, and prayed, as if a funeral was passing. Once the passing truck was not covered. I saw a couple of children my age cling to their parents. The Russian soldiers pointed their weapons at them and motioned to them to sit down. I trembled with fright. I knew that soon one of those trucks would come for me and my parents.

My mind transfers the vision of the family in the Russian truck to the current crisis in Ukraine. I envision the scene replayed thousands of times, and I’m outraged. I feel compelled to cry out.

Many deported Lithuanians did not survive to return to their homeland after the break-up of the Soviet Union.

As for the return of the relocated Ukrainians, their chances are poor. If Putin is victorious, no questions about their disappearance will ever be raised. After the war, Putin or his successors, will deny their existence. Only their friends and relatives will remember them and grieve, as I still do, for those I loved.

Fred Natkevi
Oak Park

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