Võru train station hosts March deportation exhibition

Part of the Võru train station exhibition, depicting Siberian landscapes which would have greeted many of the 1949 deportees.
Part of the Võru train station exhibition, depicting Siberian landscapes which would have greeted many of the 1949 deportees. Source: ERR

To mark the 70th anniversary of the March deportation of Estonians, a thematic exhibition is open at Võru train station, in South Estonia.

The exhibition depicts Siberian landscapes, a reference to the vast region of Soviet territory which hosted the bulk of the Gulag network of prison camps and related locales, and is part of the ''Siberian Childhood'' art program marking the anniversary organised by the SLED art foundation.

In common with 15 other train stations across Estonia whence victims were deported from 25 March, 1949, Võru train station has been given a Russian name, Tulun, to correspond with a train station in Siberia which would have received many of the deportees.

''As part of the 'Siberian childhood' project, we celebrate all 16 railway stations which deportees passed through in 1949,'' Ave Taavet told ETV current affairs show Aktuaalne kaamera, on Sunday. Ms Taavet is the curator of the exhibition, rendered into the Võru language of South Estonia as ''Tsiber tarõn''.

''(Tulun was chosen) since it is located in the Irkutsk Oblast, and there were five trains that left on 29 March at the Võru railway station," she continued.

''As the 'Siberian Childhood' program explores the mechanisms of collective trauma involved in the movement, the landscapes may serve to invoke such a conclusive effect as a whole,'' Ms Taavet continued.

Surviving 1949 deportees gather at train station

''As one March deportee related, landscapes themselves are not to blame, but they have a vital role in the memory of those who experienced Siberia in that way,'' she continued.

Nonetheless, for those who gathered on Sunday to commemorate the deportation, the landscapes still seemed alien.

''These (pictures) are from the Krasnoyarsk region, but I was sent to the town of Shelekhov, in the Irkutsk region,'' said one 1949 deportee, Ilse Sonn.

Other deportees remembering the events found more familiar sights on closer inspection. Two brothers who were both deported said that, after being released from captivity, they went to the Sayan mountains, depicted in the exhibition.

The exhibition runs until mid-June. The Aktuaalne kaamera broadcast (in Estonian) is here.

Monday is a national flag day and marks the 70th anniversary of the March 1949 deportations, with thousands of candles to be lit in remembrance, all over the country.

At least 22,000 Estonian people were deported from their homes over the four days of 25-28 March 1949, along with close to 70,000 from Latvia and Lithuania. Thousands of Soviet troops were deployed from other parts of the Soviet Union to carry out the act, code-named Operation Priboi.

A total of 19 trains travelled from the 16 Estonian stations during the event. Close to a third of those deported were children under the age of 16, which naturally would have included some of those deportees attending the gathering at Võru station on Sunday.

Many of those deported never returned home. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has recognised the deportations as a crime against humanity.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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