But in 2008 the Gataev couple were arrested by the Lithuanian State Security Department. The spouses spent more than a year in prison on trumped-up charges. They were exculpated from all the charges by 2015.
The Gataevs have been residing in Finland where they were granted asylum from Lithuania. But they still couldn’t get back their children whom the authorities of Lithuania had taken away from them after their arrest and had placed in SOS-kaimas orphanage.
Vilnus 2010. SOS-kaimas. Heda Chinhoyeva (right)
One of the children – Heda Chinhoyeva – has recently turned 18. She has spent the last ten years dreaming of the reunion with Malik and Hadizhat whom she considers her parents. The Lithuanian guardianship authorities never gave her such a chance. When Heda turned 18 she was actually thrown out of the orphanage to the street with no money or self-sufficiency. She managed to get to the Gataevs’ home in Finland and finally reunite with her family. Lithuania put her on the international wanted list. It turned out Heda had to stay in Lithuania for three months after leaving the orphanage – no matter she had no place to live and no money to buy food.
I remember Heda a little girl I met in Lithuania when visiting her with Malik and Hadizhat. After exculpation from all the charges in 2015, the Gataevs started coming back to Lithuania to see their children. The Lithuanian authorities just didn’t give the children back. But they couldn’t prevent the parents to come and visit them for at least a couple of hours. The Gataev couple spent a lot of money to come from Finland to Lithuania to bring the children food, clothes, toys and all the stuff parents usually buy for their children.
Childrens of Gataevy in SOS-kaimas. Vilnus 2010. Heda Chinhoyeva (right)
Even after the Gataevs’ full acquittal in court, the Lithuanian authorities kept protracting the family’s reunion with the children and then implemented what can be called a new humiliation and harassment for the Gataev family. They started granting the children the asylum – the asylum nobody had asked them for. This prevents the family reunion. The Gataev children are citizens of the Russian Federation. Their parents obtained asylum in Finland from Lithuania, not from Russia. Giving the children Lithuanian asylum ties them to Lithuania, creating a number of judicial and bureaucratic difficulties for leaving Lithuania and living in Finland.
Human rights activists, non-governmental and state authorities of Russia, Finland and other European countries have tried to find justice for the Gataev family and failed. The letter to help return the children to Malik and Hadizhat was delivered personally to the president of Lithuania.
Hadizhat and Malik Gataevy
Meanwhile Heda has been losing hope to reunite with Malik and Hadizhat while living in the Lithuanian orphanage. It’s not always easy to talk to her now. Her Russian and Lithuanian are quite poor, but the one thing most uncomfortable for Heda and her family – she has almost forgotten the Chechen language. 9 years ago, when she was taken away from Malik and Hadizhat by Lithuanian authorities, she used to speak Chechen language and prayed in it. The children of Gataevs who had to stay in Lithuanian SOS-orphanage told Malik they were threatened by housemasters and even beaten for speaking Chechen language.
As a result, Heda doesn’t remember her native language, the history and traditions of Chechnya. Her native culture was pulled out of her by force. But the Lithuanian authorities seem to never have meant to make her a Lithuanian citizen either. She became a tool in an unjust operation against the Gataev family. Not a Lithuanian, not a Russian, not a Chechen, she was torn out of the life she could have had with her foster parents Mailk and Hadizhat and taught to be afraid and obey.
When Malik hoped to finally see Heda after years of separation (the children can leave the orphanage when turning 18 years old), he learned the Lithuanian authorities have obliged her to stay for three more months in Lithuania after leaving the orphanage.
He hoped Heda would be able to live these three months in the orphanage so that she doesn’t have to rent a flat. Malik discussed that with the orphanage authoritieis who, he says, agreed to let Heda live there for a while – for the time she had to receive documents to properly leave Lithuania for Finland without having to rent anything or pay for the hotel. But the authorities of the orphanage didn’t keep their promise, and Heda was left on a street without money.
Heda Chinhoyeva 2017
«They told me they don’t need me anymore since I am adult now and can do what I want», says Heda, scared and desperate. She lived with bum people in a crisis centre situated in Vilnius. But there she fell ill and having no money for the medicine and no friends tried to find a job. One day she returned to the crisis centre too late and was kicked off for the delay, she says. She finally decided to go to Finland in spite of the Lithuanian authorities’ prohibition for her to leave the country within three months.
Otherwise she would have to steal for food or die – Heda recalls thinking of committing suicide because of the despair and depression.
Malik informed Lithuanian authorities of the situation – Heda didn’t want to break any rules, but she just had to get back to her foster parents because there was simply nothing else she could do, he says.
Lithuanian response was harsh, says Heda. They put her on the international wanted list.
Heda Chinhoyeva 2017
The family appealed to the police and immigration service of Helsinki, Finland trying to explain the complex situation and assure the authorities their wish to stick to the law.
The rule of the law and human rights is what they believe in. They say that Heda’s next stop could be Strasbourg, The European Court of Human Rights.
“I just want to live with my family, in accordance with the law”, says Heda.