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The Hero from the Land of Trakai Castle
Umud Mirzayev (President of IEPF), Ricardas Lapaitis, and Anastasia V. Lavrina when paid visit to the graves of the Khojaly`s victims, Azerbaijan. Photo Courtesy of Ricardas Lapaitis
Wednesday, 11 October, 2017 | 08:10 WIB
The Hero from the Land of Trakai Castle

TEMPO.CO, Jakarta,

Written by: Nia S. Amira, Indonesian Author, Journalist & Linguist

Trakai Castle is located on an island in the lake of Galve, in Trakai city, Lithuania and is a red brick castle built in the 14th century by Kestutis. In other parts of the world such as Indonesia and other Asian countries, it is perhaps only a few people who know if this Lithuanian man who next year will turn 50 is the savior of hundreds of Azerbaijani children and elders during the Nagorno-Karabakh war in 1992. Ricardas Lapaitis was just 24 years old, young enough to deal directly with the Armenian soldiers who, according to his testimony in a written interview with me, were brutal and seemingly wanted to finish off all the inhabitants of Karabakh until no one left.

It was the first time that young Ricardas learned that there were citizens of the Soviet Union involved in the armed conflict. Armenia and the CIS announced open aggression against Azerbaijan. It was then when Ricardas realized that his presence in Karabakh was like coincidently marrying Khojaly (read: Khojaly Tragedy) because he was on the battlefield that was most dangerous for human being in the Caucasus region; from the beginning when the war was raged until it ended, he became the only journalist who survived the battle that lasted for almost 2 years. Like having nine lives, this religious man recognizes that God is always with him.

He came personally into contact with the victims, reunited the scattered children from their parents, looking for food supplies for children and the hungry elders. He recorded pictures of the Armenian soldiers who were brutally doing their inhumane acts and cruelty against the residents of Karabakh in his old camera and wrote them very carefully every inch of the land he passed and smelled the blood of the wounded and dead people he encountered them like a wolf. Seeking shelter for refugees under the hot bullet attacks of the Armenian soldiers supported by Soviet troops. All the events of brutality against humanity were well recorded in the mind of this journalist who likes green as his favorite color. Ricardas was the first journalist who wrote this bloody event in Lithuanian media, his native country and after his article had been translated, lots of media in the western country had published it, including the one by Ayten Aliyeva of BBC.

Ricardas was born on July 26, 1968 in the village of Papacha part of Marijampole town that located on the banks of the Shesupe River, one of the tributaries that empties into the Neman river which is the main river in Lithuania, about 55 km to the southwest of Kaunas. The first inhabitants of Marijampole settled in the second half of the seventeenth century were peasants and 60% of the population were Jews but then German troops occupied the city at the beginning of the First World War until the founding of an independent New Lithuanian State in 1918.

The man who masters Polish language due to its geographical proximity to Lithuania has had valuable life lesson even since he was a little boy. His parents’ house suddenly was on fire until there was nothing left and when he was in the fourth grade of elementary school, his parents were divorced, and so little Ricardas lost the love from his kind-hearted and honest father. His father went through the world as a circus player (read: Russian Circus).

From his parents, Ricardas inherited German blood and to this day he is still considered as a "strange" man by the Lithuanian society for helping many Muslims in Azerbaijan and Chechnya. Nevertheless, Ricardas most favorite food is Cepelinai, a typical Lithuanian puree with meat, cheese, and mushrooms made in Zeplin plane form and served with cream sauce.This Alitusky College graduate has never worked in the field he studied. He was even more memorable when he was at Verstaminay Elementary School where he studied reading and writing that eventually led him as a journalist, writer, and poet.

When he had to go on military service in the era of the Soviet Union, Ricardas dedicated himself as a cryptologist expert and that time, he seemed to be lost in the earth. After his military service was over, he returned to Lithuania which also gained the first independence from the Soviet Union in 1990. What he had learned in high school from the textbooks during the Soviet's reign in his country was utterly untrue and he felt like a generation without identity.

This adventurous Ricardas was the one who started the journey from Moscow by biking around the 15 Republics of the Soviet Union in 1990. He circled the Ural, exploring every corner of Siberia up to the Japanese sea border, then to Baikal, the world's oldest lake that has many mysteries, further to the city of Vladivostok, then to the North Pole located on the Taimyr peninsula where he learned about the lives of a handful of tribes known as the community of Cato, Evenki, Ganasany, Dolgans and others. For a year there was no communication with the family, and Ricardas was considered dead.

The event of massive extermination of the Khojaly population on the night of February 26, 1992 was so imprinted on Ricardas mind and for his great service in the Khojaly tragedy, in 1993 Azerbaijan's President Abulfaz Elchibey met him personally and rewarded his courage and dedication as a military journalist in his young age and for his coverage of the events in Nagorno-Karabakh. He was in a war zone from start to end. Not long after that, he met the leader of the Autonomous Region of Nakhchivan Azerbaijan, Geydarom Alievym.

After returning to Lithuania in 1994, Ricardas traveled back to the Northern of Russia. From 1995 to 1997, he worked as a military journalist in Chechnya. During 1996 many militants were killed, including journalists and Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudayev. Ricardas was really like having been born with nine lives because he was the only one who escaped from death and even when the city of Grozny was scorched by Russian forces the same year, Alla Dudayeva, wife of the number one person in Chechnya was still able to read a series of poems before Ricardas in the middle of the devastated Grozny, and he still remembers the verses of poems uttered in sorrow feeling by Alla Dudayeva who was also a poet. In 1998, before the second invasion of Russian forces in Chechnya, Ricardas was already there again.

In 2011, it began filming "Endless Corridor" directed by Aleksandras Brokas from Russia. In the film, Ricardas plays his protagonist role. A 90-minute film has captivated film critics at the international film festivals around the world and gained the best of awards, including the ones from Jakarta and Bali. The real movie adapting the true story that happened in Khojaly which was written very carefully by Ricardas and that has been translated in many languages and has been screened in over 100 countries all over the world, including in Indonesia. The film tells the cruelty of the Armenian soldiers who killed the people of Khojaly brutally and also drove them out of their homes, their own land.

Since then, Ricardas began working as a representative of the IEPF (International Eurasian Press Fund) where he, as the main figure who continues to campaign for justice for the people of Khojaly and who helps through his voice for the Karabakh refugees who now reach to 1 million people. Ricardas travels around big cities in Europe such as Paris, London, Brussels, Prague, Moscow, Berlin, Strassbourg, Geneva, Baku, Vilnius and other cities under the institution of "Justice for Khojaly" chaired by Leila Aliyeva, wife of Azerbaijan President who is also Vice President of Azerbaijan. Ricardas attended many events organized by this institution and gave his testimony to what really happened with Khojaly's tragedy. The event was widely covered by almost all mass media in Europe.

Ricardas, the hero for the Azerbaijani nation, lives far away from the luxury despite receiving certificates and awards from the President of the International Eurasian Press Fund, Umud Mirzayez who has helped him in many ways in collecting data. Among his daily busy days as an ordinary staff at a small company in the capital Vilnius, Ricardas is the President of the Writers Club in Lithuania called "Lazdiyu Mene". Ricardas is also a member of the Journalist Association of Lithuania. As a poet, he has published several poetry books.

Ricardas is a hero to the oppressed Muslims of Azerbaijan as well as Chechnya. The real story of Khojaly tragedy written in his diary and has been filmed keeps his own sorrow as it turns out that, the film with many international awards in many film festivals in major cities in the world, including was awarded as the best documentary at the Accolade Global Film Competition of 2015 in the United States, is inversely proportional to his modest living condition in a small dwell, without adequate space heater when winter arrives, it is on the outskirts of the woods of Vilnius city. He calls it as a wolf's house.

Ricardas intends to visit and help some families who had saved his life during the bloody tragedy; the survivors who once hid him from the cruelty of the Armenian soldiers. Ricardas still holds hope for Karabakh's future. He wants the next story to be heard well by people who have a conscience and who can help him doing even greater for the humanity.

This year is the 25th anniversary of Khojaly's human tragedy which had taken 613 lives of mostly children, women and the old people, as many as 1000 people became disabled, 8 families were killed at once, 25 children became orphans and 130 children lost one of their parents. More than 1,275 innocent people were taken prisoners, and about 150 were unknown to the present day.

Even after twenty-five years of Khojaly tragedy, Ricardas still finds it difficult to tell what he had witnessed. Time can heal the wounds of the body, but emotionally it will always be there in our lives. Ricardas excused himself to go to his backyard, feeding the animals who always faithfully accompany him and chatting with the birds, the rabbits, and a dog when he misses Modestas, his only son who goes to school in another city.

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