On January 13, We Were the Nation of Heroes

30th anniversary of January 13

This year marks the 30th anniversary of January 13. KTU academic community was actively involved in the defence of independence of Lithuania in 1991. Students, lecturers and employees went to Vilnius by buses to defend the state objects; others were protecting the buildings of television and municipality in Kaunas, Sitkūnai radio station and Juragiai radio and television rebroadcast station. On January 13, the students of KTU Radioelectronics Faculty Virginijus Druskis and Rimantas Juknevičius died by the Television tower. After the gory events of January 13, KTU Senate addressed the universities and higher education institutions of the world asking to support the fight of the Lithuanian people for our independence. The universities of the neighbour countries responded to KTU request. Tallinn University of Technology expressed its condolences and solidarity with KTU in the letter in the Lithuanian language. The letter, authorised by the general assembly and signed by the Vice-Rector V. Mikkal, said: “<…> The heroism of your people makes us feel proud. We stand with You. The Baltic nations will not be broken! The Baltic nations will win their freedom!” At that time, the people of Lithuania became the nation of heroes. As the years go by, these events become history and their participants – historical figures; however, they were ordinary people who became heroes at the crucial moment to our country.  On the occasion of the anniversary of January 13, KTU Museum prepared a virtual exhibition for those who want to learn more about the fallen heroes V. Druskis and R. Juknevičius, the members of KTU community who were defending the Television tower, participated in the protection of the Parliament, understand the role of Kaunas in the crucial days of 1991 and see how the university commemorates January 13.

The virtual exhibition displays documents and photographs from the archives of the widow of Virginijus Druskis, Asta Druskienė Klingienė, the family of Rimantas Juknevičius, the defenders of freedom Robertas Gradauskas, Julijus Valančauskas, doc. Saulius Japertas and KTU, photographs by the former photo correspondent of the newspaper “Kauno Diena” Edmundas Katinas capturing the images of January 1991 in Kaunas and photographs by Jonas Klėmanas from the 1996–2020 KTU events commemorating January 13.

Their Sacrifice Was Not Meaningless

On January 13, the students of KTU Radioelectronics Faculty Virginijus Druskis from Vilnius (1969–1991) and Rimantas Juknevičius from Marijampolė (1966–1991) died by the Television tower. Virginijus was only 21 and Rimantas was 24.

Virginijus was the only son. He graduated from Vilnius Electromechanics Technical School. He loved working with computer hardware (he built a computer) and was practicing oriental martial arts. Right after his admission to Kaunas Polytechnical Institute (since 1990 – Kaunas University of Technology), in December 1988, he was enlisted in the Soviet Army. He returned on the day entire Lithuania was standing in the Baltic Way… In June 1990, he married and transferred to study in the extramural division. He was waiting for Lithuania to create its independent army and enlist as a volunteer. When leaving his home and wife Asta, Virginijus said: “If all of us are afraid, Lithuania will never be free”.

Rimantas was the second child in the family. He liked sports, was a diligent pupil but also very mischievous. The parents of Rimantas were often called by teachers to school because of the “jokes” of their son. After secondary school, he graduated from Kaunas 23rd Technical Vocational School. In 1987, he was admitted to the Radioelectronics Faculty of Kaunas Polytechnical Institute; however, he was enlisted in the Soviet Army after one year of studies. In the characteristics of the University, he is described as friendly, sincere, active participant of Sąjūdis campaigns, defender in the “Politechnika” and “Radistas” basketball teams. In 1991, he was in the 4th year of studies; however, he was so involved in the activities of Sąjūdis that he neglected his studies – requested a delay of examinations several times and wrote an application to leave the University. His parents did not know this. When the independence of Lithuania was threatened, Rimantas and his fellow students were going to keep watch in Vilnius. On a fatal evening, he had a cold because he was keeping watch with other people all day before in the cold. On that evening, his aunt asked Rimantas to take care of his health and remain at her home but he refused and went to Vilnius Television tower with his friend. During his entrance examination, Rimantas wrote in his essay that writer Jonas Biliūnas understood the significance of the sacrifice. His parents often remember his words: “If not me, then who?”.

Virginijus Druskis and Rimantas Juknevičius, who died by the Television tower, were not random victims. Under the conditions of the Soviet occupation, they grew up to be courageous and proud people who loved freedom and sacrificed their lives for the freedom of their Homeland. Thanks to them, Lithuania voted for independence in the referendum on 9 February 1991 and thanks to them, we are free today.

Defence of Independence in Vilnius

Many students and lecturers of KTU participated in the defence of independence in Vilnius; however, only some names of the defenders are known. On January 13, Vilnius Television tower was also defended by the third-year students of  KTU Machinery Production Faculty Robertas and Rasa Gradauskai. Robertas left his wife at home and held hands with other defenders making a live chain of people preventing the Soviet soldiers from accessing the entry to the tower. The Soviet soldiers began firing and throwing explosive packages. Both legs of Robertas were shot using illegal bullets that damaged the nerves in his legs. First 5-7 years, he was undergoing intense treatment but a young man did not break – he started exercising very enthusiastically, became fascinated with extreme sports: sailing, windsurfing, surfing.  While raising a daughter together, he and his wife graduated from the university and received their diplomas of engineers.

Senior Researcher of “Vibrotechnika”, Folk Artist dr. Julijus Valančauskas also got injured on January 13 while defending the Television tower with his wife. A shot from the Soviet tank damaged his hearing. He received the January 13 Commemorative Medal for bravery and the Medal of the Order of the Cross of Vytis. Other participants and witnesses of these events: student of the Faculty of Energy Aušrys Kriščiūnas, who participated in the campaigns against the Soviet Union Army organised by the Lithuanian National Youth Union “Jaunoji Lietuva” (“Young Lithuania”) in 1990 and became the first chairman of KTU Students’ Association in the summer of 1991, Tadas Masėnas, doc. Antanina Navasaitienė who was protecting the Government Building with her daughter and son.

On the fatal days of January 1991, some members of the Parliament and defenders took the oath to defend Homeland at the Supreme Council, including the signatories of the Act of March Algirdas Patackas and Povilas  Varanauskas. One of the defenders of the Parliament was the Associate Professor of KTU Faculty of Mechanics and Engineering Colonel Lieutenant Saulius Japertas. At the time, he was a postgraduate student of the Institute for Physical-Technical Problems in Energy and finished writing his author’s abstract (summary) while being on watch at the Parliament. He defended his dissertation on 12 December 1991 and later became the head of the Communications and Information Systems Service. After completing his military service, he started teaching at KTU. On 12 January, 31 students of KTU became volunteers, took an oath and were protecting the Parliament. Unfortunately, only some names of the defenders of the Parliament are known: Vaidas Mačernis, Kęstas Laumsargis, Gintaras Laurinaitis and Leader of the Squad Maslauskas.

Kaunas in January 1991

At the beginning of January 1991, Kaunas City Council set up the defence headquarters. The Chairman of the Council Gintaras Pukas was appointed as the chief of the headquarters and the members of the Council Presidium were appointed as the members of the headquarters. The list of strategic objects that had to be protected was compiled. It included Kaunas Division of the Lithuanian Radio and Television (S. Daukanto St.), Lithuanian Radio and Television Centre (Vaižganto St.), Sitkūnai Radio Station (Kaunas District), Juragiai Radio and Television Station (Kaunas District), 2 telephone stations (Taikos Pr. and Savanorių Pr.), Municipality Building. A responsible deputy was appointed for each object. Mayor Vidmantas Adomonis was assigned to organise the protection and defence of the Municipality Building and help organise the defence of the strategic objects. The deputies of the City Council formed the groups responsible for certain areas of activities, including the following groups: group for relations with the management of  Kaunas Military Garrison (Leader Zigmas Satkevičius), group for organisation of the defence of strategic objects (Leader Vaclovas Pečatauskas), group for information reception (Leader Povilas Andrulis), group for verification of the reliability of information (Leader Saulius Gricius). The barricades were built around the protected objects using the building foundation blocks, sand bags, heavy transportation vehicles.

At the initiative of the Vice-Mayor S. Gricius, KTU Amateur Radio Sport Club led by Algis Kregždė set up a radio station at Kaunas Municipality Building and radio operators took turns to keep watch at this station. It was a direct communication channel with the Supreme Council and the world. A radio sport master of international class, trainer and multi-time World, Europe and Lithuanian champion A. Kregždė organised the shifts of the members of the club (about 15 people in total) to keep watch at the radio station set up in the dormitory at KTU Student Campus. This station was much more powerful than an amateur radio station that was operating at the Supreme Council at that time. When the members of KTU Radio Club found out about the attack on the Television tower, they immediately broadcasted the information from the Supreme Council in the English language via the amateur radio channels abroad. In several minutes, it reached the global news agencies – CBS, “Voice of America”, etc. Thanks to this radio bridge, the world quickly learned about the gory events in Lithuania. The biggest contribution was made by an American shortwave radio enthusiast Roger Bart who transferred the news broadcasted by Kaunas citizens to the largest media outlets in the USA. Later, Lithuania recognised his merits by awarding him the January 13 Commemorative Medal. A backup, very powerful 5 kilowatts radio station was set up in Kaunas Clinics.

When the gory events at Vilnius Television tower began, the sirens installed in Kaunas for civil protection purposes were activated and the bells of all churches started ringing, signalling Kaunas citizens to gather at the protected objects. Thousands of people gathered at the strategic objects at night, went to Sitkūnai and Jūragiai. When Lithuanian Television and Radio went silent, Kaunas Television and Radio started working. It was a big surprise for the occupants because they failed to cut off all communication channels between Lithuania and the world and other Lithuanian cities. The direct broadcast began from Kaunas Television on the night of January 13 and continued uninterrupted until January 16 when the broadcasts of the Lithuanian television began from the Supreme Council Chamber. It lasted 72 hours and 8 minutes. The key messages were translated into the English language by VDU prof. Liucija Baškauskaitė, Russian language – VDU lecturer Linas Bulota. The leadership of the Soviet Army in Kaunas demanded the information not to be translated into the English language, ordered to remove the barricades from the objects and urge the people to disperse, threatened to order a curfew in Kaunas, but nobody obeyed them.

The Memory is Alive

While commemorating the first anniversary of the January 13 events on January 13, 1992, at the initiative of KTU community, a wayside shrine was built by the Chamber of KTU Faculty of Electrical and Electronics Engineering in memory of Virginijus Druskis and Rimantas Juknevičius who died by the Television tower. In 1993, a memorial plaque was opened in the Chamber. Each year, the memory of the fallen students is honoured by bringing flowers to the memorial plaque and wayside shrine, organising meetings with the Defenders of Freedom and singing patriotic songs. The heroes of January 13 are memorialised in the exposition of KTU Museum. Unfortunately, very few exhibits attesting these events survived; therefore, KTU Museum requests the members of KTU community who were participants of the events of January 13 to share their memories and search for the preserved relics. It is our obligation to give the feeling of love to our Motherland, courage and unity that helped us defend the independence of Lithuania in January 1991 to the younger generations.