In Lithuania’s so-called “appendix,” a forgotten community is caught between progressive Europe and Soviet-era stagnation.

The sunflowers have been here for as long as Katija Stankiewicz can remember. Her grandmother planted the first seeds when the family relocated from Belarus in the late 1870s. It has always been Katija’s job to tend to the flowers.

The air is crisp, and the frost still covers the barren potato fields that surround the village. The only sounds that can be heard for miles come from a small group of chickens pecking on the dusty road, and the subtle humming of a barbed-wire fence that marks the border between Lithuania and Belarus.

Here, in the so-called Dieveniškės “appendix,” as it is known locally, national borders have been redrawn at least five times in less than a century.

Katija Stankiewicz, aged 85, has lived in the Dieveniškės region for most of her life. She fondly remembers the time when there was no fence between Lithuania and Belarus.
1: A road sign on a narrow dirt road leading up to a check-point on the Lithuanian-Belarus border. 2: Cars are a rare commodity in the region, and residents often have to borrow cars to get to the capital city of Vilnius to sell their crops.
Chickens on Katija’s farm. Farming is still the primary source of income for many of the residents in the region but the lack of public transport and viable infrastructure makes it difficult for the communities to sell their goods elsewhere.

Legend has it that the seemingly arbitrary borders around this peninsula came to be during a meeting in Moscow, when the borders of Lithuania were being mapped out during the Soviet occupation. Stalin’s pipe happened to be placed on the part of the map were Dieveniškės is now and no one dared to move the pipe. So the generals just drew a line around it. Katija often jokes that she has lived in three different countries without ever moving.

Following the collapse of the U.S.S.R. in 1991 and Lithuania’s accession to the European Union in 2004, the country had to comply with the Schengen Agreement, which abolished many of Europe’s internal borders but strengthened those with non-E.U. nations. In 2007, a barbed-wire fence was erected, physically and permanently dividing many of the villages in the appendix, including Sabaliūnai, where Katija lives.

Train tracks leading to the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius. The only train that passes through the region stops in Klepocai on the outskirts of the Dieveniškės appendix once a day.
1: Powerlines near the border fence. For the past 25 years, power outages have regularly occurred due to governmental disputes between Lithuania and Belarus. 2: Electrical wire marking the border between Lithuania and Belarus.

Katija’s sister lives on the other side of the village, less than a mile away, in what is now Belarus. Despite the short distance, Katija has to make an almost 90-mile round trip in order to reach a border crossing. The lack of government support makes access to relatives living on the Belarusian side virtually impossible for many of the residents in the region.

On Jan. 1, 2015, Lithuania became the 19th country to join the Eurozone. While the rest of the country moves forward thanks to rapid economic and social changes, the residents of the Dieveniške appendix continue to cultivate their dreams and traditions in solitude, living off the land as they have done for centuries.

A cross stands in the middle of a village in the Dieveniškės appendix. Public transportation is virtually nonexistent in the region and villagers often build effigies and chapels themselves to keep their strong faith alive.