Soviet Victory Day commemoration in Lithuania: regret over monuments, no incidents

  • 2024-05-09
  • BNS/TBT Staff

VILNIUS – As Russia celebrates the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany on Thursday, some of Lithuania's Russian-speakers traditionally visited cemeteries to honor Soviet soldiers who died in World War II.

On the eve of the so-called Victory Day, Lithuania's intelligence warned of possible provocations, yet the police recorded no incidents until early afternoon.


Several dozen people came to Vilnius' Antakalnis Cemetery from morning until noon. Most of them said they were marking the victory over "fascists" and paying tribute to their grandparents and other relatives who died in the war.

A larger crowd, around 150 people, gathered at a former Soviet memorial in the center of the port city of Klaipeda.

Some Lithuanians who support the Kremlin's policies or are nostalgic for the Soviet era also chose to mark May 9, when the end of the war is celebrated in Russia and some former USSR states.

Police presence was somewhat stepped up at Antakalnis Cemetery and nearby streets, with about 20 officers on duty. 

The police reported no incidents, noting that no visitors were wearing the black and orange Ribbon of Saint George, a Soviet symbol which was previously common on May 9, but was banned in Lithuania in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. 

Some people at Antakalnis Cemetery were angry about the removal of the Soviet memorial, where they had gathered and laid flowers for many years to commemorate the date.

Vilnius' authorities had the statues of Soviet soldiers removed in late 2022 and had the pedestal dismantled later. 

A poster brought by a person on Thursday read, "Here stood at a monument to anti-fascists; it was torn down by fascists' defenders!".

Flowers and candles were placed on the stairs at the site on Thursday, and wreaths were brought from the diplomatic missions of some post-Soviet countries, Kazakhstan and Russia's ally Belarus, but there was no wreath from the Russian embassy or any other obvious signs of respect. 

Erika Svencioniene, who is currently standing trial on charges of aiding another state to act against Lithuania, said she was celebrating "the victory of all nations."

"I am celebrating Victory Day today. Ukraine must understand that they have to be with us on Victory Day. Because it was the victory of all nations," she told journalists at the cemetery when asked if it was appropriate to commemorate the Soviet victory while Russia is waging war in Ukraine.

Most of those who came to the cemetery avoided media attention, expecting to be asked questions about Russia's war against Ukraine and the Soviet occupation of Lithuania.

Valerij, a senior citizen, told BNS that he comes to Antakalnis Cemetery every year out of tradition and because his grandfather fought in World War II and celebrated "the victory over fascists."

"Fascists are everywhere. Fascism did not die, not only in Russia. Do you think there is none in Ukraine?" he said.


In Klaipeda, some members of the city's Russian-speaking community gathered at the memorial to Soviet soldiers on Daukanto Street at noon to mark Victory Day.

The memorial changed after Russia's war in Ukraine: the bronze sculptures of soldiers were removed, as was the sword. The fallen are commemorated by memorial plaques with engraved names.

"My relatives, my grandfather, my great-grandfather, a lot of them, they fought near St Petersburg, then Leningrad; most of them are now deceased. I come here out of respect," said Igor Volkov, who has lived in Klaipeda for over 50 years.

History can be interpreted in different ways, the man said, and "you will never know how it really was".

"What I regret is that they are waging war on monuments. It's disgusting that you can fight without enemies," he said. 

Another Klaipeda resident, who did not give his name, told journalists that some members of the community no longer want to come to the place following the removal of part of the memorial.

For him, May 9 symbolizes liberation from Nazism, which is "what we are currently facing".  

Darius Petraitis, head of the Public Order Service at the Klaipeda County Chief Police Commissariat, said that heightened police presence at the monument will continue until Friday morning, adding that the area is also under surveillance by security cameras. 

He said no incidents had been recorded so far.