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Conscript’s death as diagnosis of Lithuania’s army

Photo: delfi.lt

Since the beginning of last year, when Vilnius announced the resumption of compulsory military service, scandals have been haunting the Lithuanian armed forces. As a result, fewer and fewer people want to go to army and, consequently, the youth migration has intensified. The top leadership of the country is aware of the problem, but cannot change anything so far. The latest death of a conscript from an infectious disease in army is an evidence of their inactivity.

“Help us escape this hell!”

Let us have a deeper look into the situation. Last spring the Seimas approved the decision to resume the conscription for five years. Later this term was extended for an unlimited period. They plan to draft about 3,000 young people at the age of 19-26 every year. At first, the potential conscripts were not enthusiastic about serving in army, and the authorities even had to frighten the “objectors” with criminal penalties. Then Jonas Vytautas Žukas, Chief of Defense of Lithuania, officially promised that nine months in army will be useful to the conscripts and will help upgrading the security of the country. The Chief of Defense promised good conditions, comprehensive service requiring efforts but within everyone’s scope of abilities.

At first, they managed to draft as many conscripts as needed, but later the things went wrong. In January, the coscripts participating in the training exercises near Pabradė sent an email to mass media asking for help. “It is very cold here, no heating, our legs feet have turned blue from cold, and no one is going to repair the stove. We are shivering and do not know what to do. The command ignores our requests. Save us, as only you can help us,” the conscripts asked in the email.  They attached the photo of the broken stove, adding that they have to spend nights in poor tents in - 20 degrees Celsius.

The Defense Ministry tried to conceal the incident trying to assure media that they placed soldiers in the premises that were heated.  However, it turned out that those premises in the polygon were not for housing. “We sleep in either bathrooms or lavatories that stink. We have to sleep lying almost on top of each other, since there is very little place here. We hope you will help us escape this hell,” the conscript wrote.

A month later, a new incident happened on the polygon in Pabradė. On February 10 early in the morning, forty conscripts felt abdominal pain and general illness. Physicians said with a thoughtful air, “the dyspepsia was caused by a virus non-airborne infection…” It remained unclear wherefrom the soldiers caught the infection…  From all appearances, the reason was the poor quality of food.

By the way, the Lithuanian recruits complain about being served meals that are much worse than the ones served to their American colleagues with whom they serve shoulder-to-shoulder.  Journalist Ignas Krupavicius who was service in army left a post on Facebook, “Recruits rejoice: Oh, and cheese! The cook sharply answers: no, it's for Americans.”   The journalist wrote that his fellows do not complain of the quality of meals; they are indignant at “social inequality” they are facing in their own country.  In his words, the Lithuanians and Americans are served different meals, and even in the dining room, they are placed in different parts of the room. 

Accidents or criminal bungling?

In May,  several scandals broke out. At first, media reported that more than one hundred mits were found on the body of a recruit. His fellow told media that during drills tents without floor layers were used.  “Mits like warmth and moisture and crawl into the tents. I know that man. To be more precise, two hundred and one mits stuck into his body. Two nurses were pulling them off within forty minutes. I saw that myself,” the recruit said. He was astonished, as his fellow was sent to the maneuvers on the next day, “though doctors strongly prohibited him from participating in the maneuvers.  He is afraid to go anywhere and does not tell anyone about it. It's a game with human life, because encephalitis is not a common cold", he added.

However, senior officer of the Mechanised Infantry Brigade Žemaitija, captain Alfonsas Bickus said the young man was under observation of doctors and was not sent back to the exercises. As for the tents without the floor layers, Bickus said in summers there is no need in such tents as all the conscripts have sleeping bags and carpets. In addition, he said, everyone can apply for vaccination against encephalitis free of charge.

Later in the same month, the military had to admit that a grenade detonated in the air at the Pabradė polygon causing heavy traumas to two soldiers of the Prince Keystut infantry battalion. Supreme Commander Žukas said the incident happened during the anti-tank exercises “Hunter.”  The grenade detonated immediately after launching and wounded two soldiers who were taken to a hospital in Vilnius.  He said the Military Police was investigating the incident. 

On May 16, the father of a soldier informed media that his son was injured during a medical examination in the army. As Audrius Vilkelis told the media, his son lost consciousness during a blood test. To bring him round, doctors used the traditional method – ammonia. However, they carelessly poured the liquid onto the face and eyes of the soldier. Afterwards, the young man was taken to hospital in Kaunas, BaltNews.lt reported referring to the soldier’s father. The latter told media that his son was not let to contact his parents at first, and the doctors said he could pour the liquid onto his face “himself.” Now, the young man has to undergo treatment not to lose sight.

However, what happened on May 15 at Rukla base was a real tragedy. A 21-year-old private Martynas Jurkus died from acute infectious disease. He was drafted on April 4.  He was hospitalized with high body temperature and sickness. Later he was moved to the clinic of infectious diseases in Kaunas where he died after a while.  After that incident, twelve of his companions refused from meals suspecting that the reason could be the low quality products. They were indignant that the commanders did not inform them of potentially dangerous situation. 

The incident will be investigated, but irrespective of the investigation results, it will damage the reputation of the Lithuanian armed forces. By the latest statistics, 2,512 conscripts have not attended the conscription points this year alone. Ms. Asta Galdikaitė, Head of Press and Information Sectionща the Defense Ministry, warned that all those who deliberately avoid army will be punished. Will that help?

In January, Prime Minister of Lithuania Algirdas Butkevičius admitted the migration intensified in April and the following months when the conscription was announced. The prime minister said he thinks the young people prefer working abroad for a while to avoid army. 

According to the State Department of Statistics, in 2015, 46.5 thousand people left the country. As compared to 2014, this figure increased by 9,900 people. The population in Lithuania totaled 2.89 million at the beginning of the year, which is by 32.7 thousand people less than a year ago.  And the situation in the armed forces do not help to correct the situation in the country…

Vyacheslav Samoylov

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