Hometown Alaska: Tiny museum in Chugiak honors Lithuania’s fierce independence

The night of Soviet killings of January 13, 1991 in Vilnius, Lithuania. An unarmed Lithuanian citizen stands against a Soviet tank. Wikimedia Commons image by photographer Andrius Petrulevicius, Lithuanian Central State.

Svaja Worthington was only five years old in 1944 when her family walked away from their Lithuanian home in the face of Russian brutality. During World War II, Lithuania had been occupied first by the Soviet Union and then by Nazi Germany. Towards the end of the war in 1944, as the Germans were retreating, the Soviet Union reoccupied Lithuania. And, as with events in Ukraine today, there was active resistance.

Some of Svaya’s relatives were taken to Soviet gulags. Her family left everything, walking behind a cart carrying their belongings, with a cow trailing behind. They spent years as refugees, finally coming to the United States — first New Jersey and then Illinois, where a relative resided. Svaya grew up there, graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and went on to graduate school in literature and teaching at the University of New Mexico. There, she met her future husband, a park ranger, who took her to Alaska.

The Little Lithuanian Museum & Library in Chugiak. It is open to the public free of charge June through September.

Today, Svaya curates a tiny museum celebrating Lithuanian history and culture located in the hills of Chugiak. It includes—among many historic and cultural artifacts—an old leather suitcase of family clothes from that cart in 1944. All is preserved in a tiny yellow house she bought and moved near her home in Chugiak. She opens her museum free to the public by appointment, June through September.

Lithuania’s history is rich. As her website explains, at one point in time, “Lithuania was the largest principality in Europe known as the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, extending from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea and to within 100 miles of Moscow. Lithuanians were the last Pagans to be converted to Christianity in Europe, and to this day Lithuania is a fascinating blend of Paganism and Christianity.”

Learn more on today’s program, when Svaya will relay her family’s story, her reasons for creating this museum, and much more about this Baltic state’s rich and independent history. Join us.

HOST: Kathleen McCoy

GUESTS:

  • Svaya Worthington, curator of the Little Lithuanian Museum & Library in Chugiak
  • Mary Kancewick, attorney, poet, of Lithuanian descent, links indigenous rights with Lithuanian drive for sovereignty

LINKS:

  • Little Lithuanian Museum & Library website

PARTICIPATE:

  • Call 550-8433 (Anchorage) or 1-888-353-5752 (statewide) during the live broadcast (10-11 a.m.)
  • Send e-mail to hometown@alaskapublic.org before, during or after the live broadcast (E-mails may be read on air).
  • Post your comment or question below (Comments may be read on air).
  • LIVE: Monday, June 6, 2022 at 10 a.m.
  • RE-AIR: Monday, June 6, 2022 at 8 p.m.
  • PODCAST: Available on this page after the program.

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kmccoy (at) alaskapublic (dot) org | About Kathleen

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