Lithuanian city bitterly mourns its dead Protesters angry

soldiers don't talk

January 16, 1991|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Sun Staff Correspondent

VILNIUS, Lithuania -- On one side of the street stood Theresa Bruzhevich, holding a red-and-white Polish flag with a black mourning ribbon dangling from it above the snowdrift.

Red tulips, white orchids, yellow daffodils, green spruce branches were spread on the sidewalk in simple memorial to the demonstrators who died here in the pre-dawn darkness of Sunday morning.

On the other side of the street stood a dozen Soviet soldiers in combat gear, Kalashnikovs at the ready, warming themselves at little bonfires. Six armored vehicles were lined up behind them, below the shattered windows of the offices of Lithuanian radio and television.

Suddenly three tanks roared to life, swiveled their guns toward ,, the street and rolled away through billowing exhaust.

Mrs. Bruzhevich's flag was dirty, she said, because a tank ran over it in the chaos of the military assault. She had been standing vigil in the cold since Friday, when Lithuanian leaders appealed over the radio to protect the offices from seizure by the army.

"It wasn't the Russians who did this," said Mrs. Bruzhevich, 56, a hospital laboratory worker. "It was Homo sovieticus, the new Soviet man.

"The tanks would shoot, and the people would scatter like birds. Then the people would gather back around the tanks, shouting 'Lithuania! Lithuania!' "

President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, she was reminded, had said the persecuted Russian and Polish minorities were in a standoff with the Lithuanian population -- that's why the military had to intervene.

"As in any family, we have our quarrels," she replied. "But we don't need the army to settle them for us. We didn't ask anyone to liberate us.

"Give us bread and water. We don't need anything fancy, just don't send the tanks," she said.

President Gorbachev, she was reminded, had said that Lithuanian partisans had fired on the soldiers, forcing them to fight back.

"I swear an oath," she replied. "I was here all the time, only left once to sleep for a while and get coffee. I didn't see a single weapon, except for theirs."

Approached by two reporters, a group of soldiers shifted nervously from foot to foot and cast a glance around for their officers. They looked strikingly young and spoke with shy smiles.

"We just got here yesterday. We didn't do it. We don't know anything," one of them said.

Had they heard about Boris N. Yeltsin's appeal to Russian soldiers not to use force against peaceful demonstrators?

"Only from conversation. We don't have radios," another said.

What did they think? Did they agree? Would they shoot?

The first soldier shrugged. "You got to get back over on the other side of the street. We'll get in trouble," he said.

*

By midafternoon, the line outside the Palace of Sports stretched about a mile in the sunshine, curling around the complex and down along the Neris River. It was barely moving. Those entering the cavernous building clutching their wreaths and bouquets had arrived four or five hours before.

Inside, in solemn darkness, a choir sang and an orchestra played. Young women in traditional Lithuanian dress arranged the flowers around the 10 bodies. Young men quietly hurried the visitors along.

In the bleachers, where fans ordinarily hear rock concerts or watch figure skating, were arrayed hundreds of funeral wreaths, bearing the names of their donors in Lithuanian.

Grazina Neikutyte, 19, stood and wept beside the corpse of Rolandas Jankauskas, 21. His body was neatly dressed in a black suit, but there had not been much the undertakers could do about his mutilated face.

PD "He was a good person. There aren't many like him in the world,"

she said.

They had met at a friend's wedding only a month before, she said, just after Rolandas returned from three years of service in the Soviet merchant marine. He didn't know what he was going to do next.

She lives near the television broadcasting tower. So they went and joined the circle of people around the tower to discourage the troops from taking it over -- and to have a good time.

"We were singing and dancing. His brother was there with a friend of mine, and my father was there," Ms. Neikutyte said. "We knew about the tanks. But we thought they'd just scare us a little and that would be it."

An explosive device, apparently a concussion grenade lobbed by a soldier, exploded in Rolandas' face. It set Grazina's hair on fire and deafened her. "He took three steps forward and fell, and I was running, and I never saw him again," she said, crying.

Who was to blame? "I just don't know. Their people are to blame," she said. "And our people too. Because how could they call on us to come out there if they knew the soldiers were going to shoot? Why would they call us to our deaths?"

*

All afternoon, cranes maneuvered big reinforced-concrete blocks into place before the Lithuanian Supreme Council building.

"Anti-tank barriers," said Virginius Bulgis, 31, almost cheerfully. He directed the placement of the next block with a wave of the hand.

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