Among the allies that have supported Ukraine since the beginning of the war with Russia, Lithuania is one of the most consistent and active.
Either under the leadership of President Grybauskaite, who has been supplying Ukraine with weapons since 2014, or her successor, Nauseda.
This is facilitated by the shared pages of the history of Ukrainians and Lithuanians. And we are not only talking about the medieval Grand Duchy of Lithuania, where Ukrainian was an official language.
Our joint stay under the Russian Empire, and then the Soviet Union, contributed to an even greater rapprochement. Lithuanians do not need explanations about the dangers of the Russian threat, they, unlike many other Europeans, know them all too well from their own history.
Lithuanians also remembered those Ukrainians who helped them defend their freedom from the Russians in January 1991. At that time, our compatriots were among the defenders of the TV towers in Vilnius, which the Soviet troops tried to storm. Therefore, aid to Ukraine is relevant to Lithuanian society.
Since the start of the mass invasion, Lithuania has sheltered more than 50,000 refugees, which is a lot for a country of three million.
In May, on the initiative of journalist Andrius Tapinas, they started collecting funds to purchase a Bayraktar drone for Ukraine. And it was achieved in three days! On July 8, the drone named “Vanagas” arrived.
It seems that this name was not chosen by chance: “Vanagas” was the pseudonym of Adolfos Ramanauskas, the commander of the Lithuanian partisans, their Roman Shukhevych.
And among those who organized the purchase and transfer of the Bayraktar was the Minister of Defence of Lithuania, Arvydas Anashauskas. He is a historian by profession and a researcher of the anti-Soviet insurgent movement.
The struggle of Ukrainian and Lithuanian partisans against Moscow after the end of the Second World War is another common page in our history. Unfortunately, at that time both insurgent movements, although fighting the same enemy, did so in parallel.
But there were attempts to join forces on the Ukrainian side. I have already talked about the joint actions with the Polish anti-Soviet underground, and the UPA raids into Slovakia in 1945-46. Four years later, the same propaganda raids were attempted in order to establish contact with the Lithuanian underground. Colonel Vasyl Halasa, the then head of the OUN in Volhynia, and earlier one of the organizers of the UPA Sovak raids, was responsible for the preparation of this.
This time, he also wrote special instructions for the participants of the raid, as well as the campaign material. An appeal to the peoples of the Baltics was made in a leaflet to the “Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians!” in Ukrainian and a shortened version in Russian. Since the raid was supposed to pass through Belarus, a separate “To the Belarussian People” campaign was created.
The leaflets were illustrated with a wonderful woodcut entitled “The Will of the People! Man’s Will!” by the famous underground artist Neil Hasevych (“Bej-Zota”). The main emphasis is the call to the Baltic nations on the need to establish cooperation between the liberation movements of all those people enslaved by the USSR.
Halasa wrote: “Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians! The struggle of your people for your liberation we must conduct together and we must place it in a single reasonable plane – the plane for the struggle to construct independent national states for all peoples enslaved by Moscow…Lithuanian, Latvian, Estonian Revolutionaries! Close cooperation with our liberation movement. Send your underground literature, leaflets appeals to Ukraine.
Mentor your fellow citizens so that they, while in the enemy’s army, in forced labor in Siberia, in the prisons and concentration camps, and in all other circumstances, can establish a friendship with Ukrainians and help each other in life and the fight against the occupiers. We have always done so, are doing it, and will continue to do the same.”
In the Russian version of the appeal, it reads: “Strengthen ties with the Ukrainian liberation movement. With a common front, we will launch an offensive against the common occupier. Long live the Anti-Bolshevik Bloc of Peoples! Respond in the same way to our call.”
In 1950, there was no question of the complete repetition of the 1945-47 raids of hundreds of UPA soldiers who for several weeks conducted operations in neighboring states.
The task of establishing communication after traveling hundreds of kilometers and conducting an effective information campaign in a terrain saturated with enemy forces could only be performed by a small mobile group.
Such a group was formed by the head of the Koval OUN, Vasyl Sementukh (“Yaryj”). Twelve underground members, led by the leader of the Kamin-Kashyr region, “Rybak”, filled their backpacks with informational material to the point where they couldn’t fit any more food. In addition to the already mentioned leaflets, they took other publications, in particular one of the key texts of the Ukrainian underground: “Who Are the Bandera Members and What Are They Fighting For?”
On 19 July 1950, the group crossed the Belarussian border in the Davydhorodotsk district of the Pinsk oblast. In order to reach Lithuanian as quickly as possible, the Ukrainians moved conspiratorially and during the first stage of the raid did not carry out any informational work.
However, they quickly realized that their stay was not a secret for the Soviet special services, who knew their task was to get to Lithuania. The previously planned movement northward became impossible due to the blockade of the area by the Belarussian Ministry of Internal Affairs troops and the MGB.
Therefore, on July 22, the commander changed the direction of the raid and at the same time adjusted their assigned tasks. The insurgents turned east and began a propaganda campaign amongst the Belarussians. The report on this raid reproduces the atmosphere of UPA operations in Belarus.
“People from the entire village came to us, a conversation turned into a rally. About the struggle on Ukrainian lands, about our political platform, about the importance of a common front for the peoples enslaved by the Bolsheviks, about our cry: ‘The Will of Nations and People!’ was heard carefully by 200 villagers. After a short rally, discussions began, during which the villagers sincerely told us everything about their lives…
Here is one older woman, addressing us, saying: ‘Guys, save us all, because we are lost, break this evil force.’ After spreading our revolutionary literature, we leave the village. The people guide us. Some, in order to talk to us, ran into our path several times and force a conversation, and the children and even the elderly, led us all to the forest.”
Having reached the Prypyat River, the insurgents, who at that time had already visited 21 settlements, in particular Turiv and Petrykovski areas of the Poliska oblast, went home.
On 1 August 1950, they crossed the border and soon returned to their place of deployment in Volhynia. Despite the saturation of the territory with enemy troops, the underground managed to avoid armed clashes. But despite this tactical success, the main mission of the raid – establishing relations with the Baltic partisans – remained unfulfilled.
Former partisans from Ukraine and Lithuania, although without weapons in their hands, but still unconquered, who managed to break the dictatorship of the criminal prisoners of Stalin’s camps.
Cooperation became possible after several years and thousands of kilometers from Ukrainian and Lithuanian lands – in the endless expanses of Siberia and Kazakhstan.
With the 1953-54 uprisings in Vorkut, Norilsk and Kengira, they destroyed the GULAG system itself. Then, in 1991, they jointly destroyed the USSR.
Cooperation between Ukrainians and Lithuanians continues today.
The nations that stood together against the Soviet empire are now standing together in the way of Putin’s attempts to restore it. I am sure that we will succeed – freedom will win over slavery, as it has more than once in history.