By Viktors Duks/Talis Esmits/Jonathan Baynard
2022 will go down in our history as a year of actions, Legenda covered wars long past to current conflicts. It was an emotional year for many of the members both in Latvia and in Ukraine.
THE HOLOCAUST (Latvia: 1941-1945)
This was one of the most emotional, complex, and technically difficult missions for our members, because of the nature of this war crime against civilians, genocide, the tradition of the Jewish people, tragedy. This was exacerbated by the lack of experience of today's European specialists to deal with this kind of issues combined here.
The Legenda Team along with members of the Baldone Museum. Photo: Legenda 2022
In 2022, we were approached by the local researchers of the city of Baldone with a request to support the exhumation and reburial of the remains of citizens of the Republic of Latvia, residents of Jewish nationality, who were murdered in the period around July/August 1941. Local archaeologists did a tremendous job of uncovering step by step the place where the mass grave of the civilian population was discovered.
The mass grave was located in the forest in the trenches of the First World War, at a depth of 30-50 cm, the burial was penetrated by a system of tree roots, which complicated the exhumation of the remains.
Without carrying out full-fledged research, it was not possible to determine the boundaries of burials there. All exhumation works were coordinated with the Jewish community of Latvia, whose representatives were present.
During the exhumation, the remains of 39 people were exhumed; 29 adults and 10 children. Initially, the shallow burial had been disturbed by forest animals. Based on the position and location of the human bones, it could be concluded that the burial site had been disturbed before. The exhumation was also covered by the French Newspaper Le Monde in-depth.
During the summer of 2022 the burial ritual was held at the Baldone cemetery. Photo: Legenda 2022
THE FREEDOM WARS OF LATVIA (1918- 1921)
The archive of the Brethren Grave Commission contained information that the hero of the Freedom Wars, Sergeant Ludviķis Fricis Blaksons, was buried in the forest massif in the Riga territory during the battles. In 2021, the search unit "Legenda" found the first burial place and exhumed it as a result of the search.
In 2022, the granddaughter of another hero of the Latvian War for Independence, Kārlis Augusts Bušs, turned to the "Legenda" search unit for support with a request to rebury her grandfather at the Riga Brethren Cemetery, where according to his status he should be.
Thus, this year, only two cavaliers of Latvia's highest military award (the Military Order of Lāčplēsis) were ceremonially reburied in the Riga Brethren Cemetery.
THE FIRST WORLD WAR (1914-1918)
In 2019, the reconstruction works of the Brasa Bridge were started in Riga, as a result of which the burials of the garrison of the Imperial Russian Army were excavated.
During the investigation and consultation, "Legenda" was invited to carry out monitoring and exhumation work.
After a technical break, in 2022, the reconstruction works were resumed, which continue under the newly constructed area. The problem with the project was that there must be close cooperation between the construction company and Legenda , which did not succeed every time. But as a result, all the planned works were carried out. Thank you for your understanding to the city of Riga and of course to the builders. In 2022, just one part was reburied in the territory of the Riga cemetery.
Work on this project is still ongoing.
WORLD WAR II (1941-1945)
Legenda continued its work on the examination of the burials of the Red Army, following the suggestions and requests of the relatives.
These are the original burials during the the war, which, according to the available documents, were reburied and moved to other Red Army Brethren Cemeteries. Burials that, according to the documents, were reburied on other Red Army Brethren Cemeteries.
As a result of the research, several original war field burial sites were discovered, which were reburied in cemeteries only formally - "on paper", but in fact, the burials were located in the original place, which is not a war cemetery, but an agricultural, forestry and recreational area.
Two burials from these areas were exhumed during the autumn period
During the summer and autumn expeditions, two burials were exhumed in the Dobele region, most of the buried were Latvian soldiers who were conscripted into the ranks of the Red Army in the fall of 1944 and 1945.
In the fall of 2022, these soldiers were reburied in Dobele and Irlava Red Army Brethren cemeteries, where their names were already engraved on the tombstones as well as in the burial register lists.
THE SEARCH (2022)
Legenda replied to the call of the Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Latvia and municipal institutions to provide support, which includes the arrangement and relocation of soldiers' graves, Legenda carried out search-probing-exhumation works in the city of Jēkabpils. The remains of Red Army soldiers were found in the city centre, which are reburied in the Brethren Cemetery.
On behalf of the Ministry of Defence, Legenda closed the Brethren Cemetery in Skrunda, in the former territory of the Rudbāržu manor. It was necessary to carry out the works due to the change in the status of the territory. This was the first case when Legenda carried out work in already established cemeteries of the Red Army.
The conclusion during the work: when exhuming the remains of soldiers, there is a discrepancy between the list of buried persons and the actual number of burials, as well as, the name list.
According to the archive data of the cemetery (data from 1984), 133 were reburied, but according to the exhumation facts, just 78 soldiers.
MILITRACKS MAY 2022
Legenda attended Militracks, one of the best shows worldwide on the theme of WW2 at the largest WW2 Museum in Europe in Overloon Holland. Around 20,000 visitors walked past our stand and in around four languages our volunteers laid out an exhibition of items and stories of Legenda. Thanks to everyone who came past our stand and bought a supporters pin, almost 2000 Euro was raised for future operations.
A special thanks goes to the staff Overloon War Museum who were extremely professional and accommodating we look forward to working with you in the future again.
Our attendance was covered by the German TV channel NTV and aired on German National TV. Titled: Reliktjäger – Die Welt der Militaria Sammler
RUSSIAN AGGRESSION AGAINST UKRAINE ( 2014 - Ongoing)
Legenda condemns the Russian aggression on the Ukrainian nation, and many of the members felt the need to do something as soon as possible. From humanitarian aid deliveries to full time volunteers embedded into EOD Teams and training Ukrainians.
Already in the first three weeks of war, members of Legenda from Latvia, Great Britain, Germany, Switzerland and Holland went on humanitarian missions to Ukraine.
As a result of which humanitarian cargo was taken to Ukraine, and refugee families were taken out on the way back.
In November 2022, a cooperation agreement (memorandum) was signed in Kyiv with the Ministry of Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied Territortories of Ukraine, which provides for cooperation the training of exhumation teams, as well as exhumation works. This agreement was signed off by the Vice President of Ukraine IIryna Vereshchuk.
The first trainings were conducted on November 17-18 2022, providing training in identification of explosive objects and work safety regulations for more than 45 members of exhumation teams under the Ministry and National Police of Ukraine.
The training was covered by German National TV - ZDF and will air in January 2023 on a special related on the ongoing conflict.
Above: Members of Legenda in Ukraine with Kyiv Police Volunteer Sapper and the Cargo200 Group - Military Historical Center "Memory and Glory"
We have been working with donors in Riga from the Hackerspace at the Institute of Electronics in supplying already 8 metal detectors and pin-pointers. Legenda also coordinated the finding and hand over of 13 Armoured Vests in cooperation with Tactical Krtek in Switzerland.
Legenda Member, Jonathan Baynard also took part in evacuations of around 300 civilians from Bakhmut & Soledar in the Donbass during the battle in August 2022. On the 3rd of August Baynard was in a car targeted by Russian Forces in Soledar when an Artillery strike almost hit the transport. This was covered by UK News as well as Latvian National News.
Moreover, Legenda has spent close to 50,000 Euro in Ukraine. 6,500 Euro was kindly donated by Google Zürich, much of the other donations came from private individuals. Some of the money was donated by the following companies: Seven Sisters Bus and Coach and Brighton and Hove, Go South Coast, Ensignbus, Stagecoach, Southdown PSV plus several private vintage bus owners.
The majority of the money was used in Legenda Operations in Ukraine to train around 500 Soldiers and National Police via covering the costs of the International EOD Team under the supervision of the National Police of Ukraine EOD Team.
Above: Legenda Ukraine Ops Manager Jonathan Baynard outlines his motivations for why he is in Ukraine to an official press officer of the Ukrainian Armed Forces on the battlefield at Hostomel Airport.
Legenda are planning to send full-time volunteers such as EOD Specialists to work in Ukraine in the coming months to support our obligations to the Ministry of Reintegration. As well as that a delegation from Latvia will visit Ukraine in 2023 in order to take part in exhumations.
In summary, 2022 was a year that brought us together in order to help those in need whilst still honouring our obligations in Latvia. It was a hard year for us but we managed to navigate the storm and we are better prepared to continue this support going into 2023.