On 24 August, the community of General Jonas Žemaitis Military Academy of Lithuania welcomed Ukrainian soldiers studying at the Academy and other Ukrainians living in Lithuania who have fled from the ongoing conflict in their homeland. Today, Ukraine’s Independence Day was celebrated here.
Three decades ago, with the collapse of the Soviet Union on 24 August 1991, the Supreme Council of Ukraine proclaimed the country’s declaration of independence. Since then, 24 August has been commemorated in Ukraine’s modern history as Independence Day. On this day, Ukrainians have the opportunity to celebrate in being born in this country, where they can study freely, pursue professions, find employment, enjoy social guarantees and more. However, the annexation of Crimea and the conflict that erupted in Ukraine last year have bestowed a new significance upon this celebration.
‘Today, Ukraine celebrates Independence Day while simultaneously fighting for its freedom. This underscores that we all must fight for freedom and our nation. We must understand that freedom is not free. Freedom is the opportunity to choose what we must do,’ said the head of the Academy, Brigadier General Almantas Leika, in congratulating the Ukrainian guests.
The General noted that August holds several significant dates for Lithuanians that connect and unite them: ‘There’s 23 August 1939, when two aggressive states – the Soviet Union and Germany – divided Eastern Europe into spheres of influence through a pact. Our partisans fought against the occupiers, and we never lost hope; we were certain we would win and become free. Another important date for Lithuania is 31 August 1993, when the Russian occupational army left Lithuanian territory.’
On behalf of the Academy, the General presented a historical Lithuanian flag to the Ukrainian soldiers, symbolising Lithuania’s enduring statehood traditions, the courage of the Lithuanian people and the victories achieved.
As part of the celebration of Ukraine’s Independence Day, the Academy community joined the Lithuanian Riflemen’s Union project ‘Vilniaus Vorai’ (Vilnius Spiders). During the event, they wove camouflage nets with the riflemen, which the Riflemen’s Union Support Group for Ukraine later delivered to units of the Ukrainian army to protect their soldiers’ lives – these nets cover military equipment and other objects for concealment from the enemy’s eyes. The initiative of this project has already been supported by the Ministry of National Defence of the Republic of Lithuania and other units of the Lithuanian Armed Forces.
The festive atmosphere was created by Ukrainians currently living in Lithuania. Three months ago, in Panevėžys, the Ukrainian ensemble Spivograi performed songs inspired by the war happening in their homeland.
Recognising the significance of the aid provided to Ukraine, the General Jonas General Jonas Žemaitis Military Academy of Lithuania places great emphasis on military education. Many Ukrainian officers and men have studied and graduated from the Academy, and a substantial number of them are currently attending the International Vytautas the Great Officers’ Course at the Academy. The willingness of Ukrainian soldiers to learn is a testimony to the nation’s determination not to surrender and to strive for victory in the fight for freedom.
The General Jonas General Jonas Žemaitis Military Academy, the only Lithuanian military higher education institution that provides university and military education and trains military commanders, continually strengthens its cooperation with the National Defence University of Ukraine and the Odessa Military Academy.
Photos by Eimantas Genys