Vanda Valiūtė was born in 1927 in a tiny Lithuanian hamlet in the parish of Kaltinėnai. She was arrested in 1946, because her parents had helped an uncle and cousin hiding in the forest to fight against the Soviets. Her parents were deported, and she was sent to a camp in Krasnoyarsk region, then to Kengir (the camp in the steppe – Steplag). After doing forced labour, she was placed in a studio where she could apply her talents as a painter. Towards the end of her detention she was allowed to move without an escort. She was released after Stalin’s death, but went on living near the camp and saw from the outside the revolt in summer 1954 being put down. While in prison she began writing romantic letters to another prisoner she saw from time to time as they were on their way under escort to work. They continued writing until 1956, even after he was transferred to a camp in Magadan region. She kept all the letters he sent her. These are now conserved in the archives of the Memorial non-profit in Moscow. In 1963 she joined her parents, who were still living in Irkutsk region where they had been deported. They could not afford to return to Lithuania. Despite some unsuccessful later attempts after 1991 to return to Lithuania, she still lives in this Siberian village. She lives not far from a cemetery where a number of Lithuanians’ tombs are marked by huge crosses, but the coffins were exhumed and repatriated to Lithuania some years ago. She continues to work as an artist.
The interview with Vanda Valiūtė was conducted in 2014 by Emilia Koustova and Larissa Salakhova.
Romantic letters from one camp to another
Vanda Valiutė describes the letters she exchanged for years with a man detained first in a neighbouring camp and then transferred to a camp in Magadan region. She spoke to him when they were being marched in columns under escort in the Steplag.
Arrest and camp
Vanda Valiutė was arrested because she and her parents had helped her uncle and a cousin who were fighting against the Soviets, taking them food on a number of occasions. She was sentenced to ten years’ camp, and sent first to Krasnoyarsk, then to Kengir in Kazakhstan.