Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN
A Vilnius court‘s decision to sentence to life in prison three former members of the Soviet special police unit OMON for murdering seven Lithuanian border guards and police officers at the Medininkai border checkpoint in 1991 did not give much solace to the families of the slain officers as the accused are free.
Russia, where they presumably hide, did not respond to Lithuania‘s request to extradite the murderers. Yet the hope that justice, with a change of the regime in Russia someday, will be served stays alive to the grief-stricken families.
The Vilnius Regional Court found Andrei Laktionov, Czeslav Mlinyk, and Alexander Ryzhov, Russian citizens, guilty of a crime against humanity under the amended Criminal Code and also ordered them to pay 653,850 euros in damages to the state and hundreds of millions of euros to the families of the slaughtered officers.
The judgment can be appealed to the Lithuanian Court of Appeals within 20 days.
Saulius Verseckas, the public prosecutor who sought the harshest sentence, life to prison, emphasised in his speech before verdict was read said that the officers had been murdered at a time of an ongoing military conflict and that the OMON commandos had broken the laws and customs of war and committed crimes against peace and humanity falling under the jurisdiction of the Nuremberg Tribunal.
According to Verseckas, although the-then Lithuanian laws did not envision responsibility for crimes against humanity, the international law norms, however, stipulated responsibility for them.
«The accused clearly knew and perceived the politics implemented by the defunct now Soviet Union,“ the prosecutor underscored.«As the inheritor of its rights, Russia ought to feel both morally and legally responsible for the atrocity.»
Verseckas says that prosecutors managed to clearly put together the timeframe and the scheme of the crime at the Medininkai border checkpoint.
It was proved that the-then Riga OMON chief Czeslav Mlinyk gave order to attack it to Andrei Laktionov and Alexander Ryzhov, which, supporting the Soviet politics, carried it out.
In 1991, a group of four Soviet commandos stormed the border station and all seven Lithuanian nationals were captured and ordered to lie on the ground and were executed with shots to the head. Incredibly an eighth officer survived, Tomas Šernas, though is now wheelchair-bound.
The case was lodged with a Lithuanian court in late 2013. Another OMON commando, Konstantin Michailov, a Latvian citizen, was sentenced for the involvement in the Medininkai border guards massacre by the Vilnius Regional Court to life in prison in spring 2011. The sentence took effect following the Lithuanian Court of Appeals’ decision to uphold it last summer.
Mindaugas Balavakas, Algimantas Juozakas, Juozas Janonis, Algirdas Kazlauskas, Stanislovas Orlavičius, Antanas Musteikis, and Ricardas Rabavičius died when OMON troops ambushed the Lithuanian customs post in Medininkai in the early hours of July 31, 1991.
Konstantin Nikulin, now known as Konstantin Mikhailov, convicted to life in prison for the partaking in the Medininkai massacre, has denied being part of the heinous crime, though admitted he was in Lithuania at the time.
Nikulin was arrested in Latvia in 2007 and extradited to Lithuania in 2008. Three other suspects in the case are known to be living in Russia, but Russian officials refuse to hand them over.
«The charges have been fully proven. The crime was against humanity and innocent people who were on duty and who perished. The families have lost their dearest people, who were bringing home the bacon. Childhood of the slain officers’ children has been ruined and the family members‘ health has deteriorated after their deaths,» Jolanta Čepukenienė, the judge, said.
In her words, state of Lithuania has also endured big expenses when searching for weapons with which the ambush was carried out.
«A large-scale search operation has been done – the sludge was removed from the Ežerinis Lake in Trakai disctrict, divers were called in and they performed a comprehensive search. Some another measures to find the guns were used, too,» Čepukenienė said,
The search costs were put at more than 114,000 euros and the court ordered the convicts to pay the sum.
Meanwhile, the family members of slain border guards and police officers left the court room with ambiguous thoughts.
«On one hand, it seems like a small step towards justice. On the other hand, there is gall that the whole process has been so long,» Justinas Orlavičius, the son of Stanislovas Orlavičius, one of the killed officers, said.
He, however, admitted that he could hardly expect a faster judiciary process with Russia being uncooperative in the case.
The young man said it sounded a bit «strange» to him the court‘s emphasis on the inevitability of serving the sentence.
«With the accused hiding abroad, their apprehension seems impossible now…So the justice has not been served fully, although Lithuania has done a lot -named the men who were behind the savage attack, issued an international order to nab them…Whether they will be extradited in future depends on good will of the countries involved,» Orlavičius junior said.
He admitted that growing without a father beside was tough. His sister Jolanta was wiping away tears during the read of verdict.
«Did it become easier over the years? No, it didn‘t. But we are alive and we need to go on with our lives…It‘s not about money at all…Some get consoled by dad putting head on his shoulder and we go to see him to the cemetery…It hurts a lot,» Jolanta Martinson, the daughter of Stanislavas Orlavičius confessed.