Meeting the man behind my nightmares by Rasa Puzinaite
The three of us - two polish girls and I - were a usual hitchhiking team during our year as volunteers in Armenia. This time we hit the road to Nagorno-Karabakh - a disputed territory between Armenia and Azerbaijan. At that time, 16 years had passed since the end of its 1994 war, yet the beauty of the flora and fauna was still mixed with towns in ruin and closed roads that led to minefields. Military was all around and sometimes we were questioned why we were walking here or there.
Nevertheless, the hospitality and friendliness of the locals made it easy to hitchhike and find a place to sleep. Nobody knew how long the peace will last and therefore did their best to live the moment as best as they could.
One of the days we were catching our next ride from the Gandzasar monastery to Stepanakert, when a military car stopped. At first we got cautious, but the officer’s friendly looking face calmed us down. We got into the car and, as is natural hitchhiking procedure, began to introduce ourselves. When it was my turn to name my home country, the officer cheerfully replied, "Oh, Lithuania, I served in the army there!" The excitement was shared, as it’s always nice to meet a person that has visited your homeland. The officer continued, "Remember the January 13th, 1991? I was there at the TV tower!” Still excited, I asked which army he had served in. He proudly said, “The Russian army!” “Oh, okay” – was all I managed to reply. Here, our conversation ended.
In 1991 Lithuania announced its independence from the Soviet Union. Consequently, the Soviet Army began to seize important Lithuanian government buildings. At that time my family lived close to the TV tower in Vilnius, one of the main objects that were under attack.
I was about 5 years old when loud explosions woke me in the middle of the night. My little sister was crying and my grandmother tried unsuccessfully to reach my parents who were at a birthday party a few blocks away. We waited, the scary sounds continuing. When my parents arrived around dawn, they told us that they were on the way to the TV tower when injured people started to appear. The Soviet tanks ran over and killed 14 peaceful civilians that night, 702 were injured. I wasn’t allowed to see the next day's newspaper, but that night became a common theme of my nightmares.
As this flashed back to me in the silence of the car, I was too uncomfortable to ask the officer more. Later we thanked him for the ride and he kindly offered his phone number in case we needed further help. When the car left, I stood in the road for a minute shocked, surprised, and overwhelmed by having had the chance to meet one of the creators of my nightmares. He was only a human and this time he helped me.
Since then this is the story I remember each January 13th. And it is a heart-warming one.