Irena Saulutė Valaitytė-Špakauskienė

1928 born in Kaunas, Lithuania. 1941 deported to Siberia, she spent 1 year in Altai region, 5 years on islands in northern Yakutia. In 1958 she came back to Lithuania.

Irena Saulutė Valaitytė-Špakauskienė (1928 in Kaunas) was twelve years old when she was deported to Siberia. Deportations in Lithuania started on June 14, 1941, so Irena was forced to leave Lithuania during the first deportation wave. The names of Irena Saulutė Valaitytė-Špakauskienė’s family members were listed in a deportees’ list because of the merits that Irena Saulutė Valaitytė-Špakauskienė’s father did for Lithuania. The year before deportations was pretty intensive for Irena Saulutė Valaitytė-Špakauskienė’s family because all the family members had to hide from NKVD in different places of the Suvalkija region, for example Šakiai.

Irena Saulutė Valaitytė-Špakauskienė’s story of deportation started on June 13 which was the last day of the school year. For this reason, all the family members of Irena Saulutė Valaitytė-Špakauskienė came back home to meet each other and kept hiding. Unfortunately, it was the last meeting because the night from 13th to 14th of June NKVD officers came to Irena Saulutė Valaitytė-Špakauskienė’s home, forced family members to leave the place and took them to Vilkaviškis train station. Men and women with children were separated and pounded to wagons. Irena Saulutė Valaitytė-Špakauskienė’s father was separated from her, her mother and older brother. The process lasted for about two days and during that time people were leaving their homes and going to different train stations without any idea what was going to happen.

The train with Irena Saulutė Valaitytė-Špakauskienė and other deportees stopped only after a month of inhumane travel and the first stop was in Biysk, Altai region. People were left in Biysk train station for about two weeks. They did not have any place to hide from the rain, which was the main reason why so many people suffered from cold and other diseases.

After two weeks people were able to leave the station and walked to a mountain town called Turochak where Irena Saulutė Valaitytė-Špakauskienė spent almost a year living in barracks. Irena Saulutė Valaitytė-Špakauskienė was pretty young, so she was not able to go to the forests and cut trees with older deportees. Instead of this, her main activity was collecting the herbs and boiling them on the bonfire – the warm mixture was the main deportees' meal.

After a year Irena Saulutė Valaitytė-Špakauskienė and her relatives were pounded to wagons for the second time. But this time echelon moved to the islands of Laptev Sea which are the coolest place in whole Siberia. The deportation process lasted for about two months because it was very difficult to reach this place. The first island where Irena Saulutė Valaitytė-Špakauskienė spent the whole season was Tit-Ary.

Every season deportees had to move to the different island, so Irena Saulutė Valaitytė-Špakauskienė was working in many of them: Arangastakh, Trofimovsk, Tiksi and others. People were working here for 12 hours per day. Deportees were fishing and building houses for NKVD officers, children were looking for wood for the bonfires. But twelve hours of work were not the end of a day to deportees. After that, they had to build yurts where they could live. Many people were not capable to withstand harsh living conditions such as freezing cold and famine, so a big part of deportees died. In 1946 from cold and exhaustion died Irena Saulutė Valaitytė-Špakauskienė’s mother. She was only 44 years old. One night Irena Saulutė Valaitytė Špakauskienė’s brother managed to hollow out the ice where they buried their mother.

This nightmare for Irena Saulutė Valaitytė-Špakauskienė lasted till 1947. This year she was able to leave the islands and go to study in Yakutsk. However, Irena Saulutė Valaitytė-Špakauskienė tried to escape from this city and come back to Lithuania for a few times but every time NKVD caught her and sent back to Siberia.

Irena Saulutė Valaitytė-Špakauskienė continued her story in Lithuania in 1958. It was difficult for deportees and political prisoners to study or find a better job in the Soviet Union, thus people were faking their biographies. Irena Saulutė Valaitytė-Špakauskienė did the same and started to study the profession of doctor’s assistant in her hometown Kaunas. After that she continued studies in the institute of medicine and decided to stay and work in Kaunas.

In 1989 when Soviet Union started to collapse, so Irena Saulutė Valaitytė-Špakauskienė joined the expedition to the islands of Laptev Sea. The main goal of this expedition was to find the remains of Lithuanian relatives who died in the islands of Laptev Sea and bring them back to Lithuania. When Irena Saulutė Valaitytė-Špakauskienė found her mother’s coffin made from wooden fish barrels and lifted the cover she was sure it was her mother – eternal frost maintained the body the same.

Dnes (2020) je Ireně Saulutė Valaitytė-Špakauskienė 93 let a stále pracuje v národopisném skanzenu ve městě Rumšiškės. Dnes vypráví turistům o deportacích v rekonstruovaném sibiřském příbytku, což návštěvníkům umožní lépe porozumět životním podmínkám na Sibiři. Na litevsko-americkou spisovatelku Rutu Sepetysovou zapůsobil příběh Ireny Saulutė Valaitytė-Špakauskienė natolik, že podle něj sepsala bestseller Mezi odstíny šedi (Between Shades of grey).


The story was processed by the Lithuanian organization Mission Siberia


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