Vilnius Museum of Occupation

We had a list of museums we thought we wanted to visit on Saturday (our flight out was at 6-30 PM, so we had most of the day). The Museum of Occupation was something new on the list of Vilnius museums, and I saw that it was very popular. Since this museum was the furthest from our hotel, we decided to start there and see how much time we had left for other museums. 

But that museum impressed us so much that after spending 2.5 hours there, we realized we could not go anywhere else, so we spent the rest of that day walking along the streets of Old Town and talking about what we saw. 

There is no other museum like this in any of the former Soviet Republics, and I think that if such museums were open in all the Russian cities, maybe, maybe… maybe things would look differently today.

The museum is located in a former Lithuanian KGB building, and the KGB internal prison is still preserved in the basement. Exhibits on the first and second floors present the history of Lithuania’s fight for freedom from 1940 to 1991. 

After leaving the museum, Boris said: I am trying to figure out which parts we didn’t know. We knew most of the facts, but in some cases, we were not aware of the magnitude of the events, and in some, we simply never gave it enough thought, which I am now ashamed of. 

I knew about deportations in 1941, right before the start of the war, but I didn’t know that there were multiple waves of deportations after the war. The number of displaced people might not look so big until you think about the total population of Lithuania and realize that it was more than 10% of the total population.

We knew about the Forest Brothers, but I had no idea that they kept fighting until 1953! I didn’t know how well they were organized, how much support did they have in the country, and I didn’t know about their multiple unsuccessful attempts to get some support from the West. 

Knowing these facts, there is no wonder to see such overwhelming support for Ukraine everywhere in Lithuania! 

The exhibit explains how “a quiet resistance” rolled out after the Forest Brothers were defeated. And once again, it made me think about the time I visited Lithuania when I was a teen and a young adult. I am ashamed of myself now that I think about how we were coming there, the occupants, and how we were oblivious that we were seen as occupants. Also, I know many Russians who moved to Lithuania after the war and after the mass deportations, and they were completely ignorant about their role in the occupation. 

The part of the museum that talks about the labor camps was somewhat less impressive because I knew a lot about them. But the KGB prison left a completely grave impression, even though, theoretically, we knew how the suspects and the prisoners were treated. 

And one of the most impressive parts of the exhibit was the room where they presented the complete organizational chart of the Lithuanian KGB organization, with names and photographs! That’s where I thought – we should have had this for each KGB organization on the territory of the former Soviet Union! Then, maybe… 

I am not sure whether the pictures can add much, but I tried to make them informative. As for the prison, the most horrifying thing is that it is real, and not only real but also very recent.

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Vilnius Toy Museum

OMG, what a wonderful museum! It was just a block away from our hotel, but we didn’t notice it first because the entrance is hidden behind the heavy gates, and you need to press a buzzer, and they actually ask who are you and whether you really want to enter!

One museum with hand sanitizer everywhere :). Some old toys are behind the glass, but there are copies available for play, and you can touch and try pretty much everything. There were so many families, and kids were having the time of their lives!

And I want to mention, that Boris liked playing with lots of these toys 🙂

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I think that it has been at least forty years since I visited Trakai, and all these years I wanted to do it again. Boris was there more recently but he was also surprised by the changes. When we entered the castle, he even said – but that’s a different castle! The castle was the same, it’s just that there was a lot of reconstruction work done in the past years.

Here is the information about Trakai Castle, and I will just say that it is beautiful, even when the weather is not so good :).

I didn’t remember from the first time I visited that there was and still is a large Karaim and Tatar population, our guide told us how they were invited/resettled by Grand Duke Vytautas, and that their culture is still preserved. Since by that time we were already on the road for a while, we started our visit to Trakai with lunch at a Karaim restaurant.

Lunch in Karaim restaurant on the lake – kibinai, traditional Karaites food
Ginger tea
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“Three Capitals of Lithuania”

On Friday, we took a private tour called “Three Capitals of Lithuania.” It was a pretty good deal: 160 euros for up to four people, with a private tour guide/driver, and it included a walking tour of the Old town, a trip to Kernave, and a trip to Trakai and the tours in both. I jumped on this opportunity because I wanted to visit Trakai – I remembered it since I was there a long time ago, probably forty years if not more.

It ended up being a decent tour. Granted, we had better tour guides in the past, but it was great to have a plan and to be able to visit two historical sites in one trip. I talked with our guide most of the way to get as much additional information about the past and present of the country as possible.

I thought I knew quite a bit about the history of Lithuania, but it turned out it was almost nothing. We knew it was the last European country to be baptized (in 1387). Still, we didn’t realize that the Great Duchy of Lithuania raised to its most might and glory being a pagan state. I am now reading about the history of Lithuania in the 13th and 14th centuries; how it took control over the Kievan Rus, which had already broken into multiple feudal states by that time. And the facts that I am reading about make me wonder who exactly stood against the Golden Hord and shielded the rest of Europe from the Mongols.

Lithuanians are cautious about using the ancient flag; as our guide said, “it was also an ancient Belarussian flag.” I believe that this goes more to whether the Great Duchy of Lithuania should be considered a Lithuanian or a Belarussian state. There was no written Lithuanian language until the end of the 19th century (same as with Finnish and Estonian languages). Our guide mentioned the official documents written in Polish, Latin, German, old Russian, and old Belarussian languages. And I already know that only about 10% of the Grand Duchy population were ethnical Lithuanians. I need to do a lot of reading to better understand that historical period, but at least I noted that I have a lot of blind spots in this area. And now – some pictures.

Breakfast in hotel

A tour of Vilnius Old town.

Vilnius Cathedral
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Newly Discovered Pictures Of The Great Chicago Fire

We know that cameras and photographs already existed at the time of the Great Chicago Fire. And we all saw the photographs which were taken during those days. However, one hundred and fifty years ago, there was a disconnect between technologies: the cameras were able to capture way more details that could be printed.

The glass negatives were huge, and the prints were small. And the most disappointing part is that most of the negative didn’t survive. Not all of them, however! And can you imagine what could happen when the exceptional quality of the glass negatives was combined with the digital printing technologies?! Now, you can see the results at this exhibit. The wall-size prints, including a panorama combined of five different shots taken from the roof of the survived warehouse.

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Stories Of The Great Chicago Fire

On Wednesday, I attended the first live event organized by Chicago Architectural Foundation since before the pandemic. They told us that the last event happened on March 10, 2020). I purchased the tickets the first day I saw this announcement, which was when the infections numbers were still high, and it was hard to tell in which direction things would be evolving.

The event was dedicated to the 150th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire, and it was called “The Tales of the Night Chicago Burned.” The storyteller Scott Whitehair spent months researching the topic. In the Chicago History Museum archive, he searched for diaries, letters, and articles, which captured the lives of the ordinary people who lived in Chicago 150 years ago and witnessed that dramatic event.

The presentation was 75 minutes long. Whitehair chose the stories of five people and followed them through two days that two nights while the city was burning, and morning when the fire started to cease.

It was such a powerful and emotional presentation! Also, the author connected the Great Chicago Fire with the pandemic, and he talked about how the city will be rebuilt: not from the ashes as it was one-hundred-fifty years ago, but how it can come to life, and how we all can help.

The venue: Spertus Museum building

I am so glad that things are coming back :). Can’t have enough!

Estonian Maritime Museum

I just realized that I forgot to blog about one more museum in Tallinn – the Estonian Maritime Museum. The museum is relatively new, and its centerpiece is an old cog – a Medieval merchant ship. 

It was built at the end of the 13th century, and it sailed for quite a long time until it sank in the mid-14th century. The ship was discovered and lifted from the sea in 2015. Now, the cog, along with hundreds of artifacts discovered on the wreck, occupy the museum’s first floor.

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Tallinn: Walking The Streets Of The Old City

Until it started raining, we walked along the familiar streets, and each turn made me happier and happier. It’s not like I thought that pandemic is forever, but for a while, I was thinking – will we ever have this freedom again?! And Tallinn… I really love Tallinn – for many reasons, not only because it is Boris’ city. 

Remember what I said earlier about going abroad in the time of the Soviet Union? To put it bluntly, we were not allowed to travel abroad, period. But the Baltic countries (no matter they were called “Soviet republics,” we knew better!) were our tiny windows to the Western World. We knew that “we” – Soviet Russia, were hated, and somehow that fact also reassured us that we were in real Zagranitza. An overnight trip to Tallinn by train on student discount cost 6 rubles – something we could afford, and going to Tallinn for a day was one easy way to stay in a fairy tale for a day. A night in the train car, a day there, and another night back.

When we entertained the German student delegation, one of the tours we offered them was a day trip to Tallinn. We even managed to book a tour in German! We endlessly walked around the city, and I can only imagine how our German visitors felt. During the day, we grabbed food here and there, but when it was time to have dinner, our German guests wanted to go to Vana Toomas. 

Now, Vana Toomas was (and still is) the restaurant on the Townhall Square, and it was the only “real thing” back then. And it was guarded against “invaders.” I almost forgot about this story, but yesterday, Boris reminded me about it when we passed Vana Toomas (not about the story – he was not a part of it, but how I told him this story).

We told the Germans that we could try, but they had to speak, and we would be silent. They agreed, and about fifteen minutes before the restaurant was to be open for dinner, we lined by its doors. In five minutes, several tall, muscle, and silent Estonians approached and asked one of the Germans in Russain what the hell they thought they were doing here. Following our instructions, the student replied Ich verstehe nicht. This answer created an instant miracle: we were cordially invited in, and the staff even moved the tables to accommodate our big company. We (three Russian female students) kept our mouths shut and whispered to the Germans when we needed something. 

We loved Tallinn, loved its unique Medieval spirit, the walls and the gates, and the towers. We loved their independence. We loved that they hated us. 

These times are gone. I had this feeling even in 2016, but even more now. We walked the streets of the city with Boris, and he told me that he felt this difference during multiple trips to the Baltic countries in the past several years. He told me: these countries parted their ways with Russia irreversibly and forever. And they do not hate anymore. They just not care. Pretty much like Finns.

Here is to our love and adoration for this unique place …

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In addition to working two jobs simultaneously and having never-ending crises on both, I dealt with one more problem.

Over a week ago, when the rains were really heavy, we had the building utility basement flooded. I didn’t think much about it: there is a bike room and storage units there, and nothing else. Our board members encouraged us to check the content of the units, but I thought I am fine: my unit is the closest to the bike storage, and I see it every day.

However, on Monday, I finally decided to move to storage a utility cart, which was sitting on my balcony. When I opened my unit, I realized that one of the cardboard boxes was sitting on the floor, not on the shelves. I thought that I should move it back to the apartment for a while since now I know that I have space, but I never got to do this. And now, the box was visibly wet and damaged.

It turned out that I was not even aware of how many letters I had! I didn’t have space to set them dry, and I didn’t have time! This week was very work-intense, I tried to squeeze a half-hour here and there, but it was not enough.

Some letters and dairies were almost intact and required very little time to dry. Others were so wet that the paper was falling apart, or the ink would get almost dissolved. Some wet pieces of paper or postcards were pressed together so that I could not take them apart, and then they dried that way.
I will need to spend some time over the long weekend sorting this stuff out.