They had braced themselves for the worst, but the 100 Lithuanian-Americans who gathered last night in East Baltimore still shrank in horror at a visual record of the Jan. 13 Soviet troop assault on the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius.
The videotape, which was smuggled into the United States, depicted Soviet troops bashing the heads of peaceful protesters with rifle butts, and tanks swarming into a crowd of unarmed Lithuanians protecting a radio-television tower on the night of Jan. 12. Early on Jan. 13, a day now called Bloody Sunday, 14 of the protesters were crushed by tanks or shot to death.
The Lithuanian-Americans watching the tape, which was pieced together by a Lithuanian man who recorded the events, had heard of the atrocities. But none was prepared for the sight and sound of a 23-year-old woman, whispering her last words at a hospital after her legs and midsection were flattened by a tank.
"The full impact hasn't gotten through to me," said Onile Sestokas, chairman of the Free Lithuania Committee, at 851 Hollins St. "These people could have been my relatives."
News reports this week have shown Soviet troops retreating from Lithuania, which declared its independence in March. But the Lithuanians last night were not reassured.
A Lithuanian who arrived in Baltimore Thursday to visit relatives said the Soviet army was present throughout the republic. "When the Lithuanians were chanting that Lithuania will be free, that's when the army got mad and came in with the tanks," Elytie Sadanskas said.