Global True Lithuania Lithuanian communities and heritage worldwide

Eastern Europe

Note: The part of Europe ruled by communists before 1990 is described here. It includes parts of Asia in the former USSR.

In the 15th-16th centuries, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was the Europe's largest country. Numerous castles, manors, and their ruins, once established by Lithuanian rulers and noble families, exist in Belarus and Ukraine. The subsequent creation of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (16th-18th centuries) means that many places in Poland and Latvia are related to Lithuania as well. The ethnic boundaries of Lithuanian nation went beyond today's state borders so there are culturally important Lithuanian places in modern-day Kaliningrad Oblast of Russia.

Grand Duchy of Lithuania castle in Kamianets Podilskyi, modern-day Ukraine, used to defend the Grand Duchy from Ottomans, Tatars and Cossacks since it was conquered by Vytautas the Great in 1393 and expanded by his succesors. Elected to be one of the Seven Wonders of Ukraine. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The 20th century brought much sadder events. The great Soviet exiles were among the most tragic moments in the Lithuanian history. This was a Soviet policy of 1940-1953 whereby hundreds of thousands of Lithuanians (entire families with children and babies) were stripped of their belongings, stuffed into cattle carriages and deported to various places in Siberia, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan. Many perished - for instance out of those deported in 1941 more than 50% died due to harsh conditions (down to -70 C winter cold) and forced labor in the Soviet concentration camps.

They left only humble crosses now crumbling in permafrost. Since the late 1990s, there have been Lithuanian youth expeditions "Mission: Siberia" to clean these graveyards. Russia is still suspicious of any such activity which reminds the Soviet genocide. Its government impeded the Lithuanian-funded construction of memorials for victims in places like Yakutsk.

The families of the upper and middle class, teachers, artists who refused to glorify Stalin, lawyers, architects, soldiers and anybody deemed "disloyal to the Soviet system" were exiled. The Genocide of Lithuanians was not unique - many other Soviet minorities suffered even worse fate. Many other ethnicities saw their entire population deported (regardless of age, occupation or political views). Such plan was devised for Lithuanians too ("There will be Lithuania - But without the Lithuanians" are the infamous words of Commissioner Mikhail Suslov) but not completed.

Lithuanian deportee graveyard in Irkutsk Oblast, Russia. Tens of thousands of such crumbling crosses exist all over the desolate parts of former USSR and even more graves are unmarked. Photo by expedition Mission: Siberia, aimed at cleaning these graveyards. Epitaph on the left reads: SADDENED WE LEAVE YOU IN SIBERIAN GRAVES, NOT KNOWING WHERE THE WINDS OF FATE WILL BLOW US.

After the death of Stalin, the repressions eased and Lithuanian deportees were allowed to return to the homeland or at least its vicinity. However, the returnees were not given back any property and were always held in suspicion, excluded from decent jobs and education. Therefore some chose not to return and still inhabit the Siberian villages. Such villages are hard to reach and foreigners are still banned from many places there.

While the Soviet expulsions forced more Lithuanians eastwards than anything else there are other Lithuanian marks in the Eastern Europe.

While the Soviet Union effectively banned emigration there was a massive internal migration. Some Lithuanians were given jobs outside their titular country. Today there are Lithuanian communities in the majority of the post-Soviet countries. Soviets established a pan-Union network of Russian language institutions (schools, university programs, theaters, media) at the same time banning minority language institutions, fostering russification. This way the minorities, including Lithuanians outside Lithuanian SSR, had to use Russian institutions and a large share of them adopted Russian language and culture. After 1990 some Lithuanian cultural institutions were allowed to open. They are concentrated to main cities such as Moscow, Kiev or Saint Petersburg.

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Belarus

Belarus and Lithuania are neighboring countries joined by united medieval history. Since its inception in the 13th century, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania expanded to Slavic lands absorbing entire modern-day Belarus and ruling it until the Grand Duchy's demise in 1795.

Lithuanian nobility families (with powers higher than those of the King) had manors and palaces both in modern-day Lithuania and Belarus. Belarus also had a fair share of castles that defended the Grand Duchy from Teutonic, Mongol, Rusian and Swedish invasions. The majority of such magnificent buildings are located near the Lithuania's capital city Vilnius. Vilnius is located merely 30 km from Lithuanian-Belarusian boundary meaning that much of Grand Duchy heritage is left "on the other side". Some of these 14th-18th-century buildings are completely rebuilt while others remain as romantic ruins.

Most famous among them are the Mir (Myras) castle and Nesvizh (Nesvyžius) Palace, both rebuilt and recognized as World Heritage by UNESCO.

Nesvyžius (Nesvizh) palace from the outside. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Ruzhany (Ružanai) Palace and Lida (Lyda) Castle are undergoing renovations. Atmospheric ruins at Golshiany (Alšėnai) still evoke memories of distant past while Kreva (Krėva) and Navahrudak (Naugardukas) defensive castles are ruined more. In Hrodna (Gardinas) two castles have been repurposed by Soviets and even used as workshops.

A multitude of old small Catholic and Orthodox churches and monasteries of the region also dates to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania era. They are Gothic or Baroque (the local form of Baroque is known as Vilnius Baroque and even the Cathedral of Belarusian capital Minsk is an example of this style). Orthodox churches here are similar in style to Catholic ones without the iconic domes.

Prior to the 19th century the areas where most Lithuanian castles and palaces stand had a Lithuanian-speaking peasant majority. However, this did not survive the onslaughts of Russian Imperial and Soviet russification. Currently, only some villages remain Lithuanian. The linguistic switch did not erode some other distinctive cultural traits: the borderland remains Catholic-majority (other Belarusians are largely Orthodox).

Map of Lithuanian castles in Belarus and southeastern Lithuania. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

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Grand Duchy of Lithuania castles and palaces in Belarus

Castles and palaces of Lithuanian Grand Duchy in Belarus are located within 100 km from the modern Lithuanian-Belarusian boundary. They were constructed in the during the golden eras of the Duchy (14th-17th centuries). During 19th-20th centuries (after the Duchy fell) these magnificent buildings were neglected and even scavenged for bricks. After 1991 independence Belarus started rebuilding them (not fully authentically).

Ružanai (Ruzhany) palace undergoing reconstruction. The neglected wing is visible through a restored gate. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Grand Duchy of Lithuania is regarded by some Belarusian historians to be the source of Belarusian statehood. There are even interpretations claiming that the Duchy was more Belarusian than Lithuanian. This is however not true as the ruling nobility was mainly of Lithuanian origin, while demography (after the Union of Lublin) was 46% Lithuanian and 40% Belarusian. However, the medieval Lithuania was a very tolerant society for its era. It had been united by largely peaceful means and the 1529 Statute equalized rights of Orthodox Belarusians with those of Catholic Lithuanians.

The first emblem Belarus adopted after its independence was the Lithuanian Vytis (albeit in slightly different colors). Contemporary Belarusian flag (white-red-white) was also based on Vytis (unlike the modern Lithuanian tricolor which is criticized by some heraldry experts for breaking with heraldic tradition). These symbols are still used by opposition alone as after A. Lukashenko came to power in 1995 he switched back to modified Soviet symbols as he associates Belarus more with the Soviet history rather than the medieval one.

Lithuanian castles and manors near Minsk-Brest highway

You may see some of the most magnificent Lithuanian castles along the Minsk-Brest route.

Arguably the most famous among them is Myras (Mir) Castle. Part of UNESCO heritage it was completely rebuilt by ~1995. Initially constructed by Jurgis Iljiničius (George Ilyinich) in late 15th century (gothic style) it was subsequently expanded by the famous Radvila (Radziwill) family (16th century, Rennaisance style). Back then only the richest could have owned a brick castle. A museum is now located inside.

Myras (Mir) castle in the evening. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

One of the major Radvila family residences is located some 30 km south. This is the fortified Nesvyžius (Nesvizh) Palace commisioned in 1582. Together with Sapiegas, Radvilas were one of the most influential Lithuanian families.

Nesvyžius palace (crowned by a tall tower and joined by a lush park) was a gem of the Radvilas and in turn a gem of the Grand Duchy‘s famous manor culture. Rebuilt in 2010 it houses a modern museum with English inscriptions, computer displays and historical re-enactments (something rare in Belarus). The nearby Nesvyžius town has little authenticity in it as it faced destruction (like most Belarusian towns). However the Radvila-funded world‘s second-oldest Baroque church (after Gesu in Rome) survives while a towered city hall was recently rebuilt.

Opulent courtyard of Nesvizh (Nesvyžius) palace. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Naugardukas (Navahrudak) town has a Glastonbury-like atmosphere with Tor replaced by castle ruins on the Mindaugas Hill. Castle has been developed by Grand Duke Vytautas and his successors (14th-16th centuries). The lower town has Grand Duchy churches and even a Tatar mosque signifying the multicultural population of the former Duchy. Stryjkowski chronicle claims that Naugardukas was Grand Duchy’s capital prior to Vilnius but this is unsubstantiated by any other historical documents.

Naugardukas (Navahrudak) castle ruins (left) and one of its old small churches (right). ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Ružanai (Ruzhany) houses an extensive 18th century Sapiega family palace. The front part that includes gate is rebuilt but the entire horseshoe-shaped arcaded courtyard buildings are ruined. The inspiring former lavishness may still be felt however.

Some of the buildings that surround Ružanai (Ruzhany) palace courtyard. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Kosava (some 15 km north of Ružanai) is the birthplace of Tadeusz Kościuszko (Tadas Kosciuška), a Polish-Lithuanian military officer (1746-1817) who reached intercontinental fame as he fought for independence of his homeland, helped USA win freedom and even the tallest Australia’s mountain is named after him. A restored wooden hut marks his birthplace. From this hut one may see a Turkish-inspired palace of Wandalin Puslowski nearby (ruined, under restoration) but it dates to the post-Lithuanian era (1831).

Lithuanian castles and manors near the Lithuanian border

South of modern day Lithuania there are two large cities of Hrodna (Gardinas; pop. 300 000) and Lida (Lyda; pop. 100 000). Lida was part of Lithuanian-inhabitted core of the Duchy while Hrodna marked its limits. Both cities were defended by might castles.

Rectangular Lyda (Lida) Castle (built by Grand Duke Gediminas in the 14th century) defended by two towers was built in plains rather than on a hill. Now rebuilt its courtyard houses various events. In medieval eras it housed expelled khans of the Mongol Golden Horde.

Gediminas Castle in Lida. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Hrodna (Gardinas) has two castles, both located next to each other on twin hils at banks of river Nemunas. The Old Castle has been constructed by Grand Duke Vytautas the Great whereas the palace-like New Castle dates to 17th century. Their interiors were destroyed by Soviets (Old Castle now houses wood worksops). Between the castles a Lithuanian-funded wooden sculpture of Vytautas is located, one of merely few statues for Grand Duchy-era luminaries in Belarus.

The Old Castle of Hrodna and Vytautas the Great statue. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Merely some 50 km east of Vilnius, just beyond Medininkai border control point there are remains of two once-glorious castles: Alšėnai (Golshiany) and Krėva (Kreva). Alšėnai was yet another residence of the Sapiegas. The remaining ruined part is not completely destroyed as you may still see former internal walls and filled cellars (and imagine the magnificient past).

The remains of Alšėnai Castle. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Few Lithuanian castles could outdo Krėva (Kreva) in historical importance. It was the location of 1385 Union of Krewo that made Lithuanian Jogaila also a Polish king (known there as Jagiello) and tied the histories of both nations for upcoming five centuries. Additionally it is likely that Grand Duke Kęstutis had been previously murdered in Krėva by Jogaila’s conspirators. Currently however Krėva is ruined. The rectangular walls are destroyed in places and only the lower part of rectangular towers remain intact.

A map of Lithuanian castles and palaces in Belarus is available here

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Lithuanian-majority areas of Belarus

Prior to 19th century, the entire castle-rich Belarusian-Lithuanian frontier was inhabited by ethnic Lithuanian majority. Historically the Lithuanian nation was dominant in a far larger territory than the modern-day Republic of Lithuania. This is still visible in placenames: a lot of them in northwestern Belarus are of Lithuanian origin (the endings are Slavicised: Trakeli, Lazdūny, Kiemeliški, Gulbiny, Kiškeliški...). The letters "išk" ("ishk", "iszk") are unique to Lithuanian-origin placenames.

Lithuanians of the assimilated into Slavic communities during the Russian Imperial and Soviet onslaughts of russification. Russian Empire banned Lithuanian language in the mid-19th century and while the people of western Lithuania found it easier to illegally import Lithuanian books from Germany this was not the case in modern-day Belarus. The percentage of Lithuanian native speakers in Vilnius governorate (which included much of modern-day Belarus) decreased from 35%-40% in mid-19th century to 17%-20% in ~1914. After a short Lithuanian rule, the region was captured by Poles in 1920 and the ongoing Polish-Lithuanian conflict over Vilnius led to further discrimination of the minority. The final blow was, however, the Soviet policies. Many Lithuanian majority areas were added to Soviet Belarus instead of Soviet Lithuania, all Lithuanian schools were then closed and even public speaking in Lithuanian prosecuted. In this era many Lithuanians left for Lithuania, others adopted the Russian language.

Several territories still contain Lithuanian communities. The largest of them is around Gerviaty (Gervėčiai) village (~14 villages, 9 of them Lithuanian-majority). Some 1000 Lithuanians live there today. A Lithuanian cultural center and Lithuania-funded Lithuanian school (Rimdžiūnai village) are at heart of the community. While the older generations associate themselves with Lithuania, the kids rarely speak Lithuanian natively. The choice of whether to send them to Lithuanian or Belarusian school typically depends on the future their parents expect for them. The Lithuanian school even has some Belarusian students who are being prepared by their families for an emigration to richer Lithuania. In Mykoliškės (Michailiški) village near Gerviaty (Gervėčiai) a new Astravec Nuclear Power Plant is under construction. Its workers are brought in by Russia and some Lithuanian-owned homes were demolished to make a place for new constructions.

The most impressive building in Gervėčiai area is the gothic revival Gervėčiai church (1903). Lithuanian in style and massive size (62 m tall tower) it outflanks the 600-strong village. In fact, it is the largest Catholic church in Belarus and is still adorned by Lithuanian inscriptions and surrounded by tall elaborate Lithuanian wooden crosses (Lithuanian art of crossmaking is an immaterial UNESCO World Heritage).

The massive Gervėčiai church. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Other Lithuanian majority areas that survived until the Soviet occupation (1939) now are almost destroyed. These are the villages around Varanavas, Pelesa, Apsas, Lazdūnai. Pelesa still hosts a Lithuanian-language school funded by the Lithuanian government.

Even those regions where Lithuanian language is no longer spoken at all still are distinctive from the rest of Belarus. Catholic religion dominates there instead of Russian Orthodoxy, some Lithuanian traditions also survive.

Lithuanian crosses near the Gervėčiai church. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

In addition to the centuries-old aforementioned communities, the 19th century Russian Imperial occupation led to the creation of new Lithuanian communities even in the eastern Belarus. With no limits on internal migration, some Lithuanian peasants left for eastern Belarus to establish Lithuanian villages such as Malkava (now Malkovka). Unfortunately, the Soviet deportations and russification totally uprooted these communities.

A map of Lithuanian localities in Belarus is available here

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Lithuanian castles in Ukraine

For some 200 years Grand Duchy of Lithuania ruled much of the modern-day Ukraine. These lands still have many tremendous Lithuanian castles that once guarded the boundary of Christian Europe as well as opulent palaces, churches and monasteries funded by the Lithuanian noble families.

Ukraine has been absorbed by Lithuania under the reign of Gediminid dynasty Grand Dukes: Gediminas (1316-1341), Algirdas (1345-1377) and Vytautas the Great (1392-1430). In Vytautas's era Lithuania controlled the entire modern Ukraine save for Crimea and the Southeast. The situation continued until the Union of Lublin (1569) when Lithuanians were forced to cede Ukraine to Poland.

Some of Ukraine's medieval castles are renovated, but many are ruined. The ruins of Ostrogiškis (Ostrogski) family palace in Satroselo have a surviving Rennaisance decor despite of sorry state. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

To this day Ukrainian historians see the "Lithuanian era" rather positively. That's because Lithuanians have never attempted to force their own culture upon Ukraine (unlike the later conquerors Poles and Russians). On the contrary - Lithuanian Royal family representatives to Ukraine would usually convert into Orthodox faith and respect the local traditions. Therefore initiatives to commemorate the Grand Duchy of Lithuania era remain popular in modern-day Ukraine. The Ukrainian cities with most Lithuanian heritage (Lutsk, Kamenets-Podilskiy, Ostroh, Khotyn) have established an association "Route of the Gediminids".

Lithuanian castles in Volhynia (Northwest Ukraine)

Most of Lithuania's Ukrainian castles are located in Western Ukraine, where the Lithuanian rule began with Grand Duke Gediminas and continued the longest (for 200 years), serving as the Lithuania's borderland with Poland.

The most famous Lithuanian castle here is Lutsk Castle that rises above the capital of Volhynia region. Its construction was initiated by Liubartas (Ukrainian: Lubart), the son of Gediminas appointed to rule Volhynia. Entire castle is now named after him and one of its three towers is known as Lubart's tower. The other two towers are have the names of Švitrigaila and bishops; the 4th tower did not survive. Lutsk castle has been completed by Vytautas the Great and most recently renovated in the 2nd half of 20th century. The towers (as well as two palaces that were built in the castle yard in 1789) currently house museums dedicated to bells, books and paintings. The paintings museum includes portraits of Grand Duchy of Lithuania nobility. Extensive castle yard (with Lithuanian coat of arms bas-relief near its entrance) hosts festivals and activities. Drawings of Lithuanian grand dukes cover windows of surrounding homes. The name of Lutsk castle resounded all over Europe in 1429 when it hosted the Congress of Lutsk where Vytautas the Great deliberated with other famous European monarchs (kings of Poland, Hungary and the Holy Roman Emperor) and delegates over the greatest issues of the era, such as the Catholic-Orthodox schism.

Lutsk castle in Ukraine. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Several other Volhynia's Lithuanian era castles have been later remodelled for other purposes. Parts of the buildings remain authentic however.

Klevan Castle had a gymnasium (high school) building added to it under the Polish rule. Soviets built the third building, transforming the castle into alcohol addicts rehabilitation center. Today everything is ruined and free to explore (there are no doors nor windows). However, the location is hidden from the road by a church and village homes, so a map or GPS is needed to find it (there are no cues).

Yard of Klevan Castle with the building that housed Polish gymnasium visible. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Olyka Palace now serves as insane assylum. Built in 17th century amidst the masonry of an older (1558) Lithuanian castle, the palace is a memento from the era when whole town was owned by Radvila famlily (the richest in Lithuania). Olyka was one of Radvilas' capitals. Pope even bestowed the title of "Duke of Olyka and Nesvyžius" to cardinal Mikalojus Radvila the Black. Radvilas managed to thrive in Olyka under each of the shifting regimes (Lithuanians, Poles, Russian Empire). At least until the Soviets came, who nationalized whole property in 1939. Today Radvilas era is reminded by a picturesque cobbled road to the town which is surrounded by trees that once provided a shade to the arriving horse riders (today it helps only the rare cabrolet drivers, but it is still pretty). Two pretty historic Catholic churches survive. Imposing Baroque Holy Trinity church (1640) is romantic (although in needs of repairs), while Ss. Peter and Paul church is even older, dating to Lithuanian era and funded by GDL marshall Petras Mantgirdaitis.

Holy Trinity church of Olyka. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Catholic churches were commissioned by the Polish-Lithuanian nobility in many other of the area's towns as well.

Dubno Castle has retained its defensive purpose. To ensure this it was rebuilt to a then-modern bastion fortress back in 16th century, leaving little visible heritage from the Lithuanian era.

External fortifications of the Dubno fortress. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Several additional Lithuanian castles of Volhynia did crumble completely, with only the hills once crowned by them reminding some of the lost glory. Vladimir Volynskiy town castle hill is an example. The same town also hosts two old Orthodox monasteries: one near the castle site and another one at Zymne suburb (completed ~1500). Zymne monastery looks imposing in pictures but the terrain makes it hard to view it from its prettiest side. The Orthodox monasteries tell about the religious tolerance that prevailed in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania where first Pagan and then Catholic rulers allowed and even funded temples of other religions.

Grand Duchy of Lithuania castles in Galicia (Southwest Ukraine)

Galicia region lays to the south of Volhynia. It served as Medieval Lithuania's boundary with both Poland and the Islamic world.

The most famous Lithuanian sight in Galicia is the Kremenets Castle built by Vytautas the Great on top of a rather high hill near Carpathian mountains. Only the ruins of external brick walls and tower remain to this day. However the hill offers a beautiful panorama of Krements main square. Kremenets was nourished by Bona Sforza (the wife of Grand Duke Sigismund the Old). However the city was later sacked by Cossacks and the current main square buildings date to the Polish era.

Panorama of Kremenets as seen from the castle hill. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Ostroh is the Lithuanian era town which gave its name to the Ostrohian family (Lithuanian: Ostrogiškis, Polish: Ostrogski). The town has numerous sights (although they are surrounded by Soviet buildings). Two partly rebuilt towers stand atop the castle hill (14th century Brick Tower and 16th century Round tower). Lower town has old gates (Lutsk Gate and Tatar Gate) while Mezhyrich monastery (built in 1612) stands at the suburbs. Constructed by Jonušas Ostrogiškis (Polish: Janusz Ostrogski) for Franciscans, currently it houses an Orthodox monk community. Its massive once boosted its defensive capabilities against Muslim raids.

The remains of Ostroh castle (Brick Tower). ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Ruined Novomalino Castle stands ~10 km west of Ostroh since it was commissioned by Grand Duke of Lithuania Švitrigaila back in ~1400. However the local abandoned chapel (which is the best surviving building in Novomalino) actually dates to 19th century.

Ostrogiškis family also had landholds further away, such as the impressive now-ruined Staroselo castle. The external walls survive nearly intact with Rennaisance decor visible. However the heritage protection level varies from one Ukrainian castle to another. Staroselo is among the less protected, its overgrown yard now used as a grazing pasture for local cows. There are no road signs helping to reach the castle.

Staroselo castle exterior. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The Golden Horseshoe of Galician palaces

Union of Lublin was followed by great changes in European military technology. Medieval castles became obsolete for defense, getting transformed into nobility residences. Windows were enlarged, interiors became more posh while surroundings were converted into massive parks. Although such Ukrainian palaces may have only a few "Lithuanian era" details, many of them remained in hands of Lithuanian families (such as the aforementioned Radvila and Ostrogiškis) well after the Union of Lublin. After all, the transfer of Ukraine to Poland was not as uprooting as latter wars and revolutions, therefore most nobles retained their landholds. Moreover, Lithuanian and Polish nobility regularly intermarried.

Bust of the Grand Duchess of Lithuania Barbora Radvilaitė in Oleska Castle museum. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Marketed as Golden Horseshoe, three opulent palaces standing merely ~10-20 kilometers from each other are among the Galicia's top sights. The closeness of Polish borders attracts busloads of Polish tourists.

Oleska Castle has the most Lithuanian connections in the Golden Horseshoe. Some of its masonry dates to the Lithuanian era (15th century) with the remainder constructed after 16th century Tatar offenses (when the castle was converted into a palace by Polish overlords). It is believed that Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland Jonas Sobieskis (Polish: Jan Sobieski) has been born in Oleska Castle (1629). The interior now hosts a museum which includes a bust of Grand Duchess Barbora Radvilaitė (Polish: Barbara Radziwill), restored royal rooms and old paintings.

Oleska Castle. Banners of Ukrainian flag colors are seen in the foreground. Such blue-yellow decor gained popularity in Ukraine after the 2014 Russian invasion. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Pidhirtsi Palace is the Golden Horseshoe's prettiest sight. It had seen a fair share of ups and downs: constructed in the 16th century by the Hetman of Poland Stanislaw Koniecpolski, then burnt down in mid-20th century, later renovated and now abandoned. Surrounded by a folly "fortress", the posh main building impressively rises above a nearby plain. A local gallery shows old palace interior photographs, depicting the times its halls were full of great artworks. Expecting a Soviet occupation the owners have successfully evacuated their collection to Canada. Their palace chapel still stands at the entrance to the former park.

Pidhirtsi palace as seen from the lower plain. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Zolochiv Palace is another Golden Horseshoe manor once owned by the Sobieski family. The main building hosts a museum with paintings, while the "Chinese pavillion" exhibits Asian art (with no relation to the locality).

Zolochiv Palace. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Svirzh Palace stands further from the Golden Horseshoe (50 km from Zolochiv) but can still be visited on the same day. The building is in good condition and undergoes a continuous renovation since 1978. It was saved from Soviets destruction as Soviets had decided to use this atmospheric location for filmmaking. While the building is post-Lithuanian, remains of Lithuanian-era defensive tower are located nearby.

Svirzh Palace. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Lithuanian castles in Podolia (Islamic borderland)

Lithuania absorbed Central Ukraine under the reign of Grand Dukes Algirdas (1345-1377) and Vytautas the Great (1401-1429), thus expanding its boundary with Islamic world to ~1000 km in lenght.

To defend the boundary Vytautas commissioned Medzhybizh Castle, which replaced an older wooden fortification. The massive walls largely survive, surrounding a rather posh courtyard with a chapel in the middle.

The yard of Medzhybizh Castle. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The castle of Kamenets Podilskiy is even larger, more famous and impressive, with a pretty old district in the nearby eponymous town. The castle was ruled (and according to some sources constructed) by Lithuanian Gediminid Grand Dukes in the 14th century. However, the Lithuanian epoch was shorter in Kamenets-Podilskiy than elsewhere in Ukraine as it was cut short by Polish annexation in 1434 (more than a century prior to the Union of Lublin).

Castle of Kamenets-Podilskiy in Ukraine. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Khotyn, another one of the the most famous Ukrainian castles, spent the medieval era on both sides of the Christian-Islamic border. In 1621 it was the scene of a major battle where Lithuanian great hetman Jonas Karolis Chodkevičius defeated an Ottoman army that outnumbered his own forces by 3 to 1. This victory was repeated by Jonas Sobieskis (Jan Sobieski) in 1673. Khotyn castle has been rebuilt and opened as a museum in modern times.

Khotyn castle in Ukraine. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Kiev, the capital of Ukraine

Deep inside the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Kiev (the capital of Ukraine) was among its key cities. However, it had came to prominence prior to the Lithuanian era, when it served as the capital of Slavic Orthodoxy and the Kyivan Rus. It also retained its importance after the Lithuanian era ended. Therefore it is hard to distinguish Kiev's Lithuanian era heritage from that of other ruling regimes (Rus, Poland, Russia).

Grand Duchy of Lithuania castle did not survive in Kiev. However a memorial plaque (at Andriyivsky Uzviz) declares the castle hill to be a joint Ukrainian and Lithuanian heritage (both languages are used).

Memorial plaque next to the castle hill stairs in Kiev. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

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Poland

Poland has much Lithuanian heritage as Lithuanian and Polish destinies have been intertwinned for centuries. Between 1569 and 1795 Poland-Lithuania was a united Commonwealth and many Lithuanian decisions used to be taken in modern-day Poland. Cracow served as the joint capital and its Wawel castle is a pantheon of Lithuanian monarchs as well as Polish.

Poland still has locations where ethnic Lithuanians are a majority (Punsk/Punskas, Sejny/Seinai area). Those are likely the only foreign places where one can feel as in Lithuania. There are Lithuanian museums, inscriptions, Christian masses and schools. Patriotism likely surpasses that in Lithuania; Columns of Gediminas are used extensively in building decor.

Armies from nations further West have passed or used to base themsleves in Poland when marching against Lithuanians. Northern Poland (Malbork castle) used to serve as a base for Teutonic Knights and the Grunewald (Žalgiris) battle has been fought not that far away. The famous pilots Darius and Girėnas died there as they flew towards Lithuania after crossing the Atlantic ocean (memorial now stands).

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Cracow: The heartland of Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth

Between 1569-1795 Lithuania and Poland were a single country - Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth. The collabortive efforts started much earlier by 1385 Union of Krėva (Krewo) when Jogaila (a Lithuanian) was crowned as king of Poland. Jogaila was a scion of Gediminid dynasty (ruling Lithuania at the time), but as he was the first Gediminid to rule Poland the Poles call the dynasty Jagiellonian after him. Gediminids/Jagiellonians then vied with Habsburgs for prevailing in Eastern Europe. Many dynasty kings are buried in Cracow which was the Polish-Lithuanian capital.

Main pantheon of Cracow is the Wawel Cathedral, part of the royal palace. Jogaila himself rests in a covered red marble grave. Most other leaders are buried in the cellars. Holy Cross chapel has a grave of king Casimir (1440-1491), Sigismunds (Žygimantai) chapel includes graves of Sigismund the Old (1506-1548; Lithuanian: Žygimantas Senasis) and Sigismund Augustus (1548-1572; Lithuanian: Žygimantas Augustas). Maryacka chapel is the final resting place of Stephen Bathory. Vasa chapel has been constructed for the Vasa dynasty of Swedish origin which was elected to rule Poland-Lithuania by its nobles after the Gediminids died out. There are also graves of Jan Sobieski (Lithuanian: Jonas Sobieskis), Michael Karibut Wiszniowecki (Lithuanian: Mykolas Kaributas Vyšnioveckis), Stanislaw Leszczynski (Lithuanian: Stanislovas Leščinskis) and August the Saxonian (Augustas Saksas). Adam Mickiewicz (Adomas Mickevičius) - A poet who wrote in Polish but considered himself Lithuanian because of his Lithuanian origins (something not unusual in the era) - is also buried there, as is the leader of 1794 uprising Tadeusz Kosciuszko (Tadas Kosciuška).

Medieval sites of Cracow. Wawel hill, its palace and cathedral are depicted on the bottom images and top left. Top right/center images show the remaining medieval district, once the capital of both Poland and Lithuania. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The Wawel grave of Poland-Lithuania's final king Stanislaw August Poniatowski is however empty. After Russia annexed Lithuania and much of Poland by 1795 he lived in exile in Saint Petersburg and was initially buried there. In 1930 the Soviets offered Poles to return the remains but the Polish opinion on "the king under whose rule the country collapsed" was understandably divided. He was thus reinterred in a village near Brest (today's Belarus) rather than Wawel in 1938 and moved to Warsaw's St. John Cathedral after the Poland's communist regime went bust.

Cracow University is named after Jogaila (Jagiello).

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Warsaw: The capital of Poland-Lithuania

Warsaw became the capital of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1596. It was transferred there by king Zigmantas Vaza (Zygmunt Vasa) from Cracow. The place had been chosen as a mid-point between Cracow and Vilnius, respective capitals of Poland and Lithuania (in reality Warsaw is 450 km from Vilnius and 300 km from Cracow, this likely representing the larger Polish influence in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth).

Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth existed for two more centuries, allowing Warsaw to accumulate locations that remind of the Polish union with Lithuania.

Likely the most important among them is the Royal Palace (destroyed during WW2, rebuilt afterwards) which once housed the family of the monarch of "both nations". Polish-Lithuanian monarchs had little influence at the time and the real Power was vested in Seimas (Parliament), which also convened in the same palace (Great Hall). The world's second constitution (1791 05 03) was proclaimed there. Near the Great Hall ceiling there are coats of arms of Poland and Lithuania (Vytis) as well as the coat of arms of all the Voivodships (administrative units), of which three (Samogitia, Vilnius and Trakai) were within the area of modern-day Lithuania. They are represented by the Samogitian bear, Vilnius Voivodship symbols (which includes Vytis), and a plain Vytis representing Trakai (as the Voivodship had no coat of arms, using the Lithuanian one instead). The Palace museum has many historic maps of Lithuania.

Royal Palace of Warsaw. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

In Warsaw St. John's Cathedral the final joint ruler of Poland and Lithuania King Stanislaw August Poniatowski (Lithuanian: Stanislovas Augustas Poniatovskis) is buried. There are also commemorative plaques for Vilnius University and Poles of Lithuania. Moreover, the Cathedral is also the final resting place of Gabriel Narutowicz (Lithuanian: Gabrielius Narutavičius) who was born in Telšiai to a family of somewhat Polonized Lithuanian nobility. They reflected the final division of a "Polish-Lithuanian nation" as Gabriel Narutowicz's own brother Stanislovas Narutavičius became one of twenty signatories of Lithuanian declaration of independence on 1918 02 16. The Polish-Lithuanian relations reached their nadir soon afterwards with the Polish occupation of Vilnius region when entire Eastern Lithuania became ruled from Warsaw once again (1920-1939). References to the era in Warsaw plaques may still evoke controversy among Lithuanians.

Plaques for the Poles of Lithuania (left), Vilnius University (right). ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Warsaw street names remind of other Polish-Lithuanian era figures. The only difference from similar memorials you may find for them in Lithuania are in names: Poles use Polish versions while Lithuanians use Lithuanian ones. For example, Emilii Plater in Warsaw is the same famous female fighter against Russian domination that is known as Emilija Pliaterytė in Lithuania.

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Northern Poland: Former Germany’s East

Before World War 2 most of today's northern Poland was ethnically and politically German.

During the 13th-15th centuries pagan Lithuania fought a seeminly eternal war against the German Teutonic Knights who sought to spread Christianity (according to critics, more likely to loot and destroy). Their headquarters was Malbork (Marienburg) castle, today rebuilt for better imagination of knights' lifestyle.

The largest of the battles against the crusading knights took place in Grunewald (known as Tannenberg in Germany, Žalgiris in Lithuania). ~70 000 soldiers participated in this one of the largest medieval battles where a united Lithuanian and Polish force vanquished the Teutonic Knights. The battlefield is now a popular tourist place with medieval souvenirs and a megalomanic monument. The battle has a great importance in Lithuania as many streets and sports franchises are named after it, including the most powerful basketball (Žalgiris Kaunas) and football (Žalgiris Vilnius) teams.

Sites reminiscent of the crusading Teutonic Knights: formidable red-brick Malbork castle (top) and an atmospheric Žalgiris battlefield with its monuments, the metal-poles one covered with coats of arms of all the regions that amassed anti-crusader armies in that battle (bottom). ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

In Soldin forest near Myslibisz a plane "Lituanica" crashed in 1933. Piloted by Steponas Darius and Stasys Girėnas this plane flew succesfully over the Atlantic with destination in Kaunas only several hundred kilometers away. It was the second longest flight time today, first Lithuanian plane to cross the Atlantic and the world's first transatlantic air mail service (the mail did not burn and was symbollicaly flown from the crash site to Lithuania the next day). The pilots became martyrs and even the Nazi Germany permitted construction of the Lithuanian pilots monument (two interlinked crosses) at the crash site in 1936 despite the German claim over Klaipėda region which shattered Lithuanian hopes to particiapte in Berlin olympic games the same year. The monument has original German and Lithuanian plaques. After World War 2 when the lands were added to communist Poland a Polish plaque was installed. Curiously the monument surivived even the iconoclastic communist regime and remained a place of respect. A traditional Lithuanian chapel-post now stands at the place where Steponas Darius body was discovered; a memorial barn is nearby.

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Sejny/Seinai and Punsk(as) area: Lithuania inside Poland

The Northeasternmost area of Poland is unique in the world. This is the only area beyond the Lithuanian boundaries where Lithuanians make the majority (~80%). Lituanity is felt here even better than in Lithuania itself: home fences and even a derelict former gas station bear patriotic symbols such as the towers of Gediminas. Many signs are bilingual Polish and Lithuanian. Unlike in Lithuania, in Poland bilingual signs are permitted in minority-majority areas. There has been situations however when vandals damaged the Lithuanian part of the signs but ~2013 most have been rebuilt.

Bilingual Polish/Lithuanian signs in the Lithuanian-majority area of Poland. These are the only official Lithuanian signs outside Lithuania. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The capital of Poland's Lithuania is Punsk (Punskas, pop. 1200). Its Accension church yard hosts a monument to Lithuanian anti-Soviet partisans. The daily mass is celebrated in Lithuanian and only in Sundays there is a single Polish mass. Church interior is more Polish however, with gold-plaqued statues of saints. Lithuanian museum is nearby. There are two of them in Punsk: Juozas Vaina ethnographic museum and Punsk history museum.

Church of Punskas next to the main square. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The greatest modern gem of Punskas area is the Prussian-Yotvingian settlement in Ožkiniai village (2 km south of Punsk). Prussians and Yotvingians were Baltic tribes (related to Lithuanians) annihilated by German crusaders; they remained pagan and left few historical descriptions. Nonetheless a local Lithuanian businessman enthusiastically builds up the massive locality since 2001. No one can tell if it looks authentic or not but it certainly feels atmospheric and believavle, with a small castle surounded by a ditch, a village, places for sacred fires, Baltic heroes path of fame. The settlement is well integrated with the local forest and no modern edifices are visible from no locations. One can feel as in the past; both Poles and Lithuanians bring their excursions here and Baltic neo-pagans celebrate their holidays.

A small wooden castle surrounded by a ditch in the Prussian-Yotvingian complex. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

A more traditional open-air museum (skansen) is located going from Punsk towards Sejny. It includes a 19th century 5-building farmstead full of museum materials, there is a barn and an inn and all these are outflanked by a modest Žalgiris battle monument. Recent extensions include two "tents of masters" (one for a language master and another one for music master) and improvised ground labyrinth that leads to a written folktale of "Eglė the Queen of Serpents" (in Lithuanian, Polish and Belarusian), an observation point, and some activities. An annual amateur village theater festival takes place here.

The inn of Lithuanian skansen in Punsk. The stone in front is dedicated to Lithuanian theater. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Minor places of interest around Punsk are a stone commemorating 1990 Lithuanian independence restoration (in Kampuočiai), a memorial for knygnešys P. Matulevičius (1956, in Kreivėnai), Vytautas the Great memorial (1930, Burbiškiai). There are many stone crosses with Lithuanian inscriptions.

Another part of the Prussian-Yotvingian farmstead. Symbols are abound: some well known, others mysterious. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The largest town in area is Sejny (Seinai, pop. 6000). It is an old diocesan centre, anchored on the 1632 Virgin Mary church. The castle-like former priest seminary and monastery stands nearby. Sejny was once a Lithuanian town and the early 19th century creators of the seminary claimed that people in Sejny area "speaks little Polish". During the Lithuanian National Revival Sejny has been an important center of Lituanity where a Lithuanian "Šaltinis" newspaper used to published since 1906. At 1897 a Lithuanian writer Antanas Baranauskas became Sejny bishop (his sculpture has been constructed in 1999 in front of the church under Lithuanian efforts; he is buried under the church). Author of the Lithuanian National Anthem Vincas Kudirka as well as Vincas Mykolaitis-Putinas who later wrote a semi-autobiographical book on priest's celibacy/love dilemma, both studied at the seminary. Out of the 25 students in 1829 21 were ethnic Lithuanians.

The seminary of Sejny prepared many famous Lithuanian priests. Today building is used as a museum. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The final fate of Seinai (and Punskas) has been decided in years 1919-1920. Both Lithuania and Poland were newly independent and were partitioning the lands of the former Commonwealth. The power in Seinai/Sejny switched many times these years, but the 1920 capture of the town by Polish forces proved to be final (the Poles continued their advance on Vilnius and Eastern Lithuania, and the bitter Polish-Lithuanian territorial dispute continued until World War 2). Berzniki village cemetary is full of the reminiscences of those days. Lithuania has recently built a gravestone with the inscription "To those died for motherland freedom" there for its fallen soldiers of the 1920 battle. Some Poles protested the inscription claiming that these soldiers died when attacking Poland. One opponent was a local priest who initiated construction of a neighboring "Ponary cross" for "Polish civilians killed by Lithuanians in World War 2" (even though the Berzniki cemetary has no graves of such victims). On the other side of the Lithuanian memorial a stone with a list of Polish-conquered cities in 1920 now stands (among them the Lithuanian town of Druskininkai). Furthermore an "alternative" memorial for Lithuanian soldiers was built by the Polish side - a cross beyond the cemetery wall where an inscription declares that Lithuanians helped the Russians to attack Poland. All these events created a diplomatic friction and even caused Poland's Lithuanians to appeal to a Vatican nuncio claiming the priest's actions are against Christian spirit.

Soldier graves with Lithuanian-tricolor ribbons in Berzniki cemetery. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The true events of the era were such: "Lithuanian" and "Pole" were a political choice rather than just ethnic categories: many people of Eastern Lithuania spoke Polish better than Lithuanian even though they were of Lithuanian origins (due to a centuries-long linguistic shift). Lithuania considered them to be Lithuanians, Poland considered them Poles (and sometimes even held the entire Lithuanian nation to be a subset of Polish nation). A war started and its results still cause some Poles and Lithuanians to dislike the other nation. This hate came through during the World War 2 when there were both Poles who murdered Lithuanian civilians and Lithuanians who murdered Polish civilians (the Berzniki cross however remembers only the latter). The Polish-Lithuanian war partly overlapped with the Polish-Russian war, that's why Lithuanians are accused of helping Russians (even though Lithuanians and Russians had a different agenda and even fought each other in the same volatile 1918-1922 period).

Currently Sejny is ~17% Lithuanian and there are few Lithuanian inscriptions but the town is still a center of Lithuanian culture. Lithuanian mass is celebrated in the church, a Lithuanian consulate is nearby, there is a Lithuanian "Žiburys" school (2005), cultural center "Lithuanian home" (1999), bi-weekly newspaper "Aušra".

Antanas Baranauskas sculpture in Seinai/Sejny. At his foot are green Columns of Gediminas a Lithuanian patriotic symbol popular in the region. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Punsk and Sejny area forms just a small part of Podlaskie (Lithuanian: Palenkė) Voivodship. This territory of 1 200 000 inhabittants with a captal in Bialystok (Lithuanian: Balstogė) was part of the Lithuanian Grand Duchy until the Polish-Lithuanian Union of Lublin (1569). The name "Palenkė" means "[A Lithuanian land] next to Poland". The modern voivodship has been established in 1999 but its coat of arms reminds its history: it is a combination of the Polish eagle and Lithuanian vytis. Vytis is also used in the coats of arms of Bialystok, Bransk, Sedica and other cities/towns; many cities/towns of the area has historical Lithuanian names that are not a simple transliteration of the Polish ones.

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Large cities of Russia: Moscow, Saint Petersburg, etc.

The main Russian cities have a multitude of locations related to Lithuania and its history, many of them dating to the Soviet and Russian Imperial eras when Russia ruled Lithuania.

Moscow and Saint Petersburg - two Russian capitals - still have reminders that for 170 years Lithuania was ruled from there: buildings, museum exhibits, street names and historical places.

Soviet era Lithuanian heritage in Russian cities

The Soviet genocide of Lithuanians (1940-1953) and related mass expulsions to Siberia are the most infamous Soviet action in Lithuania. However, after 1953 many Lithuanians were relocated to major Russian cities willingly or semi-willingly.

Moscow and Saint Petersburg were considered to be prestigious places to live at the time as there had been less shortages, better healthcare and education, more impressive architecture, etc. Only a minority of those wishing so were allowed to live there and this included some Lithuanians, a significant part of them collaborators with the Soviet regime.

Tens of thousands other Lithuanians were moved as simple workers to the smaller Russian cities. Unlike the victims of the 1940-1953 expulsions the people transfered later were given a place to live and had to work in similar conditions to other local workers rather than as slaves.

The new Lithuanian communities however largely remained anonymous and intermingled with others: any promotion of non-Russian culture outside the "titular homeland" (Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic in case of ethnic Lithuanians) was heavily discouraged. Lithuanians were expected to become part of the Russophone whole as they used Russian schools, theaters and media without a possibility to converse in Lithuanian outside of the immediate family. Buildings constructed by Lithuanians thus could not be distinguished from those built by the other ethnicities in the same cities, no Lithuanian memorials were allowed to be built. This is in striking contrast to Russians in Lithuania who had their schools, memorials and cultural institutions even in cities where they were a small minority.

Lithuanian embassy in Moscow (Borisoglebskiy pereulok) also dates to the era and its somewhat historic. It has been built as a representative office of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic. Every Soviet Socialist Republic used to have such an office before 1991. Lithuanian communists and factory representatives would live there when visting Moscow for political purposes. Therefore, atypically for an embassy, it still owns a large multistorey hotel.

Facade of the Lithuanian embassy in Moscow (left). Google Street View.

Lithuanian SSR also owned a pavillion in the All-Union Agricultural Exhibition (subway station "Vystavochnyj Centr"). This exhibition has been opened in 1935 but as Lithuania was still independent at the time (occupied in 1940) the Lithuanian pavillion has been constructed in 1954 when the exhibition had been reopened after World War 2. Every Soviet-ruled country presented its agriculture and industry in this exhibition. Lithuanian pavillions (like most others) is built in then-mandatory Stalinist (a.k.a. Socialist Realist or Soviet Historicist) style that mixed grandeur with historic details. However the building has been designed by Lithuanian achitects (A. Kumpis, J. Lukošaitis, K. Šešelgis), therefore unlike the "internationalized" buildings elsewhere it had national elements. Tricolors and other Lithuanian patriotic symbols had been banned thus the architects expressed Lithuanian heritage through folk patterns and Baroque forms (at the time Baroque was held to be the most Lithuanian among the Western styles due to its prevalence in Vilnius Old Town). The Exhibition has been closed in 1964, leaving Lithuanian pavillion to be used as a chemistry museum (the communist sculpture that crowned the top has been removed however).

Lithuanian pavillion while the exhibition was still open. Original image.

The exhibition area aso has a fountain dedicated to the "Friendship of Nations" (whcih supposedly existed in Stalinist Soviet Union). In this fountain every one of the 16 major nations which had their own Soviet republics is represented by a single sculpture (Lithuania is represented by a girl).

In order to present Lithuania as a part of the socialist eastern world many streets and other locations in the new micro-districts of Soviet cities have been named after Lithuania (Litovskiy, Litovskaya). These names largely remain.

Lithuanian street in Moscow. Like in nearly every late-Soviet district most buildings here look similar to the resdientials in any other Soviet city. There are no Lithuanian elements save for name. Google Street View.

Lithuanians themselves however used whatever means they had to show the world that Lithuania is ilegally occupied. For example, Stanislovas Žemaitis self-immolated in Moscow's Revolution square (Ploshchad' Revolyutsii) in 1990 protesting the Russian blockade of Lithuania. However this and other places of pro-Lithuanian protests remain unmarked. One exception is the painting "Danaë" by Rembrandt in the Saint Petersburg State Hermitage museum. The painting has been heavily damaged by a Lithuanian Bronius Maigys who attacked it with acid and knife in 1985. He targetted the Hermitage as a symbol of Russian state power. The now-restored painting has a comment about the attack underneath - however, it claims the attacker to have been "a maniac" (as the people who disagreed with the Soviet regime used to be called at the time).

Lithuanian heritage in Czar-era museums and culture

The major Russian museums also have some pretty things associated with Lithuania - however Lithuania is usualy represented as a part of Russia. This is because such museums were established before 1915 when Lithuania was ruled by Russian Empire. The Russian Ethnography Museum in St. Petersburg (4/1, Inzhenernaya Ulitsa) has Lithuanian ethnic materials (folk costumes, etc.) next to similar materials of other ethnic groups of the former Russian Empire. Russian Museum (est. 1898, 17 Nevsky Prospekt) of Fine Arts hosts works by Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, the most famous Lithuanian painter.

Back in that era the Czar's regime decided to keep Lithuania an agricultural hinterland. Therefore Lithuanians had to seek education and careers jobs abroad. Many Lithuanian scholars, artists and scientists chose Saint Petersburg, the capital of what was then the Russian Empire. Even the final prerevolutionary Catholic bishop of Saint Petersburg was an ethnic Lithuanian (Teofilius Matulionis). To this day Saint Petersburg University of Philology has a Baltic languages faculty. After 1918 most Lithuanians returned to build newly indpendent Lithuania however.

1897 Russian census ennumerated 300 000 migrants from Lithuania in Russia. However, most of them were ethnic Jews. Unlike largely peasant Lithuanians, most Jews were craftsmen and businessmen and felt little attachment to the land. Lithuanian and Russian cultures were equally foreign to them and the Russian cities offered more economic opportunities. After migrating there most Lithuania's Jews swiftly assimilated into the Russian Jewry without keeping any ties with Lithuania.

Knowing the recent history it may be hard to believe that once the Russian state was smaller than (the Grand Duchy of) Lithuania. Kazan Cathedral on the corner of the Red Square has been built in 1625 (demolished 1936, rebuilt 1992) to mark the forced departure of Poland-Lithuania forces that had previously taken Moscow in support of a throne-claimant Dmitriy. This happened in 1612 and was one of the very few times in history that Moscow was entered by foreign troops. In 1818 a statue for Kuzma Minin and Dmitriy Pozharski who led the fight against Poland-Lithuania was erected in the Red Square, it is now located in front of St. Basil's Cathedral and remains the sole sculpture in the Red Square.

Modern Lithuania-related places in Russian cities

The collapse of the Soviet Union ended Lithuanian migration to Russia, however the Lithuanians who lived there were finally able to practice their culture more freely, even if without the government support.

Myakinino suburb of Moscow has a Lithuanian cuisine restaurant "Gedimino dvaras" ("Gediminas's Manor") at 4-Myakininskaya 27A, near Strogino and Myakinino metro station. It has been opened in 2011 by two Russians Veronika and Igor Bezuglovs, who met each other in a local reality TV show.

Lithuanian restaurant Gedimino Dvaras in Moscow. Google Street View.

Since 1992 a Lithuanian Jurgis Baltrušaitis school works at Gospitalnij per. 3 in Moscow. Unlike the Russian minority schools in Lithuania however the Moscow's Lithuanian school does not use the minority language for instruction. All lessons are in Russian, however Lithuanian language is taught as an additional subject (these lessons funded by the Lithuanian sgovernment). The building has been built in 2005 but there are no Lithuanian architectural details. Jurgis Baltrušaitis was a long time Lithuanian ambassador to Russia in the interwar period.

Today Moscow has ~2000 Lithuanians. Saint Petersburg has ~3500 Lithuanians, a Lithuanian house (actually an apartment) and Lithuanian Catholic mass in the Seminary church (Krasnoarmeiskaja 11). Lithuanian communities also exist in Murmansk, Smolensk, Vladivostok, Samara, Omsk, Tomsk, Medvezhegorsk.

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Latvia

Latvia and Lithuania are known as "brother nations". Not only they are neighbors which never fought a war but their languages are the final remaining examples of once mighty Baltic language group. 30 000 Lithuanians live in Latvia today, comprising 1,5% of total population.

Lithuanian-Latvian ethnic boundary have always been a fluid one with many frontier villages and towns ethnically mixed. The current oficial boundary was established by arbitration in 1922, after both Lithuania and Latvia became independent from Russian Empire. Some heavily Lithuanian towns and villages were left on the Latvian side, including Aknīste (Lithuanian: Aknysta), Ilūkste (Lithuanian: Alūkšta). These border areas still have sizeable Lithuanian communities.

Lithuanians shared Latvian cities

Latvia also became a refuge for Lithuanians at times when occupational govenments persecuted them. In 1795-1915 both Lithuania and Latvia were occupied by the Russian Empire. Lithuanians however felt a bigger wrath of the Czar with Lithuanian language banned and a decision made to leave Lithuania an agricultural hinterland.

Latvia, on the other hand, had its cities and industry developed (and faced no language bans). Riga had over 500 000 inhabittants in 1914, almost the same number as it does today (650 000), and was 3rd-5th largest city of the Russian Empire. 35 000 of them were ethnic Lithuanians mainly seizing the oppurtunity to work in factories. With their homeland still agricultural this meant that there were more Lithuanians in Riga than in any city or town of Lithuania itself.

Total number of Lithuanians in Latvia was 100 000 in 1914. Many lived in the cities closer to the border: Daugavpils (Daugpilis), Jelgava, Liepāja (Liepoja). In Liepāja 25% of population (17 500 people) were Lithuanians and the city's gymnasium became the alma mater of the future Lithuanian elite. Among its students were two of the three interwar presidents of Lithuania (A. Smetona and A. Stulginskis), several ministers, writers and politicians. Today its building houses Liepāja University (Krišjāņa Valdemāra iela 4).

Former Liepaja Gymnasium. For now it lacks commemorative plaques for famous Lithuanians who taught or studied there. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Prominent Lithuanians also studied at Jelgava (Mintauja) gymnasium (prime ministers E. Galvanauskas and M. Šleževičius, female politician G. Petkevičaitė who presided over the first meeting of restored Lithuanian parliament in 1920 at the time when women still lacked voting rights in most foreign countries). On the magnificient neoclassical palace of this Latvia's first institution of higher education (built in 1775) there is a plaque for president A. Smetona who also studied here (address: Akadēmijas iela 10).

Antanas Smetona commemorative plaque on the Jelgava gymnasium and the building itself. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

After independence (1918) most of the Latvia's urban Lithuanians repatriated and helped expand Lithuania's own cities. A community of 30 000 remained; in 1931 Lithuania and Latvia signed a treaty on schooling in each other's languages. 9 Lithuanian schools existed in Latvia at the time (until Soviet occupation).

Cooperation in freedom struggles

During their wars of independence against Russians in 1919-1921 Lithuania and Latvia cooperated. Lithuanian troops reached the suburbs of Daugavpils in fighting bolsheviks; a 9 m tall monument for Lithuanian volunteers now stands in Červonka village. One of the 31 graves here had been moved to Kaunas as the Unknown soldier grave before World War 2.

Sadly this grave was destroyed by Soviet occupational regime (1940-1941, 1944-1990) but the Červonka memorial survived. Moreover, under the Soviet occupation both nations faced Stalinist genocide and hundreds of thousands Lithuanians (entire families) were forcibly expelled to Siberia in cattle carriages. Many did not survive the harsh climate and forced labour but those who did were finally allowed to leave Siberia after Joseph Stalin died. However many were still not permitted to return to Lithuania so they chose Soviet-occupied Latvia to start up their new lifes. After independence a cross has been built for Lithuanian and Latvian anti-Soviet guerillas in Červonka.

Lithuanian soldiers graves in Červonka, Latvia. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Lithuania and Latvia also cooperted in the freedom struggle of 1989-1991. As Soviet troops attacked Vilnius on 1991 30 11 (killing 14 civilians) Latvians went out to protest. Posters against these Soviet/Russian actions are now exhibited in the Barricades museum.

Lithuania-related Latvian protest banners from 1990 in the Barricades museum. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

A memorial for Baltic Way wherein 2 million Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians connected their capitals hand-in-hand in an anti-Soviet protest stands in central Riga.

Street plaque at where Baltic Way stood in 1989. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Modern Lithuanian community in Latvia

The largest Lithuanian community is today in Riga. In 1995 it re-established a public Lithuanian full time school where children are taught from age 7 to 18 (address: Prūšu iela 42A). Lithuanian language, history, geography and culture are compulsory lessons but the school is so prestigious that this does not preclude ethnic Latvian and Russian children from attending it (only some 50% of its 400 pupils are Lithuanian).

The tradition of undergraduate studies in Latvia has been renewed when SSE Riga English-language international college has been established in Riga (Strēlnieku iela 4a). 20% of its students are Lithuanian citizens.

Lithuanian school in Riga. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Although smaller than they once were the Lithuanian communities still exist in Daugavpils (~1% of population), Liepāja, Jelgava.

After 1990 independence Riga became a popular place for Baltic representative offices of companies and its airport became a popular entry point to the Baltic States. For most Lithuanian companies that grew too large for operating in a single country alone Latvia became the first foreign market (convenient for cultural and economic similarity as well as a neighboring location). To this day Lithuanian exports to Latvia well surpasses the imports. Lithuanian-owned trademarks and franchises such as Maxima retail stores, Čili pica pizzerias and others are among the market leaders in Latvia.

A Maxima store in Riga. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Latvia also acquired a "Lithuanian seaside resort" Pape. Lithuanian sea shore is very short (91 km or 1 km per 33 000 people) and gets especially crowded while its Latvian counterpart is much more spacious (494 km, or 1 km per 4 000 people). As such some Lithuanians decided to "extend" own seashore by buying up homes of Latvian borderland fisherman village Pape in the 1990s (the real estate prices were much lower on the Latvian side of the border). After both countries joined the European Union and customs control was abolished it may already seem that they succeeded as its hard to understand where the true boundary goes without seeing signs.

Crusader castles and palaces of their descendents

Earlier in history Latvia was the base for the Order of Livonia in 1237-1561. These German crusading knights had christianing and conquering Lithuania as their main (unsuccessful) goal. Its castles still remain in Cēsis (former capital), Sigulda and Bauska.

Ruined Bauska castle, one of numerous fortifications built at key locations by the Livonian knights in order to fight Lithuanians. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Lithuanians forced the Order to become their vassal as the Duchy of Courland and Semigallia. Under this status the palaces of Jelgava and Rundale were constructed, the later still the greatest palace in the Baltic States.

Rundale Palace, one of the greatest palaces constructed in the former realm of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Lithuanians had to defend Latvia from other empires in massive battles. While eventually they have lost entire Latvia to Russia (1795), they have been more successful for a while, winning a massive Salaspils battle near Riga in 1605 (the site is currently marked by a memorial stone).

Salaspils battle memorial. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Vilnius Baroque churches/monasteries of Latgale

However Lithuanians had the largest direct influence in Eastern Latvia (Latgale) where Lithuanian monks successfully reintroduced Catholic faith in 16th-18th centuries after a brief Lutheran period. They have constructed churches of Vilnius Baroque style in local towns (the style is characterized by tall lean twin towers, developed in Vilnius). Some of the remaining ones: Berzgale (St. Ann church, 1770), Pasiene (Holy Cross church and Dominican monastery), Viļāni (Acchangel Michael, 1777, and Bernardine monastery).

Aglona, the prime pilgrim location of Latgale and whole Latvia has even more Lithuanian details. Its Vilnius Baroque styled Virgin Mary Assumption church is famous for a miraculous painting that has been created using the Virgin Mary painting at Trakai church as an example. Dominican monastery stands nearby. Moreover, Agluona is famous as the place where the first Lithuanian king Mindaugas was murdered in 1263 by Treniota. Therefore a statue for Mindaugas and his wife Morta has been erected there in 2015.

Aglona basilica, Vilnius baroque in style. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

There is so much of Lituanity and Catholic faith (associated with Lithuanian rather than Latvian nation) in Latgale, and the local Latgalian language/dialect is so different from standard Latvian, that during the 1918-1922 territorial disputes an opinion existed that Latgalians are Lithuanians rather than Latvians and therefore Latgale should belong to Lithuania.

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Georgia

Georgia, a country of 4,6 million in the Caucassus, has uniquely cordial relations with Lithuania despite the distance that separate the nations. When Georgia was invaded by Russia in 2008 Lithuania took a bold stance of supporting the smaller country based on human rights rather than realpolitik. Lithuanian foreign minister was the first to visit Tbilisi when the war was raging, soon to be followed by president Valdas Adamkus.

In return Georgia established several places to honour Lithuania. In the capital Tbilisi there is Vilnius Square. It artfully incorporates elements of Vilnius: "Stebuklas" ("Miracle") tile where one is expected to turn around 3 times for his wish to be granted (the original is in Cathedral Square of Vilnius) and wall with symbols such as the Iron Wolf or Constitution of Užupis (in Georgian). A fountain, benches and a playground are nearby and the square is surrounded by authentic 19th century district.

A fragment of wall with Lithuanian details in Vilnius Square, Tbilisi. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

More impressive is President Adamkus boulevard in Anaklia, a new resort town that have replaced Russian military base on Abkhazia border. Opened by presidents Saakashvili and Adamkus in June 2012 it is very modern with its fountains and palm trees impressively lit at night. Large pedestrian bridge connects two coasts of a river. As of now however the town is quite empty out-of-season.

President Adamkus Boulevard (Anaklia, Georgia) outside season (in November). ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Lithuanian-Georgian relations pre-dates the 21st century by far. They began in 19th century when both countries were annexed by the Russian Empire. Georgia became home for famous Lithuanians. Some of them were exiled by czar, some were hiding from persecution and others were combating their own disease at Georgia's mineral resorts. In ~1900 "Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians and Poles" made up 7% Tbilsians. There are still memorial plaques in Tbilisi for businessman Petras Vileišis (Aghmashenebeli 138), writer Antanas Vienuolis (Leonidze 8), 1918-1921 Lithuanian legation (Mardzhanishvili 45), In Borjomi mineral resort town there is a bust for A. Keturakis (in front of the old train station). Tbilisi St. Peter and Paul cemetery has a monument to the Lithuanians buried in Georgia.

Moreover, the popular Eurovision Song Contest (which is followed with sport-like fervour in Eastern Europe) Lithuania and Georgia typically exchange 12 points. This is the only pair of countries to regularly do this despite not being geographically or linguistically related. There have been collaboration between Lithuanian and Georgian TV stations in creating TV series and reality TV and there is considerable tourism between two "brother countries" despite their geographical remoteness.

Lithuanian-Georgian business relations are also strong. With situation in Georgia resembling that of Lithuania 10 to 15 years ago Lithuanian businessmen are using their own experience there helped by positive attitude towards Lithuanians. Two of the three major retail chains of Georgia are Lithuanian owned ("Populi" and "Ioli"). They sell considerable ammount of Lithuanian goods marked by Lithuanian tricolors and "Made in Lithuania" signs. It looks as if the shops would serve immigrant community but it is not the case - there are only several hundred Lithuanians in Georgia and most "Populi" and "Ioli" customers are ethnic Georgians.

Populi shop in Tbilisi (the close-up of Lithuanian motive on window is shown on the right). ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

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Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan was a nomadic land until the 20th century. Russians annexed it in 1840-1860 and after the communist revolution forcibly settled the Kazakhs down. The fierce local steppes(-40 C winter temperatures) were then used for imprisonment, forced labour and murder of political opponents and persecuted minorities.

Kazakhstan thus became a prison and a grave to many Lithuanians after Soviet Union occupied Lithuania in 1940.

Today this part of the Soviet genocide is reminded by the Lithuanian-funded monuments. One of the largest GULAG concentration camp systems was the Karlag. Its prisoners were forced to exploit resources and to build the city of Karagandy (pop. 500 000). Its former Spask GULAG (30 km south of Karagandy) was once nicknamed "brotherly graves" for high death rates; a memorial cemetary now stands here. Its every "grave" is for a nation rather than a man. Georgians, Latvians, Koreans, Romanians, Hungarians, Italians, even Japanese and Philipinos (POWs) have their memorials. Lithuanian victims of exile have one too (1990 small obelisk, 2004 larger monument). Some 5000 are buried in this cemetary, having succumbed to harsh conditions or killed on purpose. Not far away in a former Karlag HQ at Dolinka village there is a museum for GULAG victims. Even in 1954 (after Stalin died) this GULAG housed some 20500 prisoners, ~3000 of them Lithuanians (15% total, even though Lithuanians made up only 1% Soviet Union population).

Later many victims of exiles were permitted to leave Kazakhstan but this was difficult as all their property would have been confiscated. Thus Karagandy city still has a Lithuanian community, its leader Vitalijus Tvarijonas having established a Lithuanian-style farmstead.

Republic of Lithuania funded another monument in Steplag (Kingyr / Kengyr) Gulag. Some 3000 Lithuanians were imprisoned here when many political prisoners revolted in 1954 after Stalin's death failed to lead to their release. Soviets then murdered some 700 prisoners, an unknown number of them Lithuanians. The memorial "For Lithuanians who struggled and died in Steplag" has been built in 2004 (50th anniversary of the revolt).

The third massive Kazakhstan GULAG system was Peshchenlag near Lake Balkhash. Its prisoners built the Balkhash town (pop. 70 000). The local cemetary has at least 253 Lithuanian graves although the local monument is quite modest and reminds a gravestone.

Today ~7000 Lithuanians live in Kazakhstan. In addition to former political prisoners there are people sent in by the Soviet government as settlers (and their descendants). In addition to Karagandy a lively community exists in Almaty (the capital until 1997 and still the largest city) where it meets at the local chapter of Lithuanian embassy. Modern capital Astana (pop. 800 000) is largely post-Soviet and has few Lithuanians.

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Hungary

Since 2013 Budapest has a statue of the Luthuanian king of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania Jogaila and his Hungarian wife Hedwig of Anjou. The husband and wife sits quite apart from each other, this symbolising the age barrier that separated them. The space inbetween is filled with coat of arms of Lithuania, Poland and Hungary; the monument also has the Columns of Gediminas symbol. The stature has been unveiled for the Lithaunain presidency of the European Union Council and represents a popular thought that the peacefully united Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was a kind of predecessor to the European Union. Moreover by adopting a Western (Catholic rather than Orthodox) form of Christianity Jogaila also set a pro-Western political momentum for Lithuania, which continues to this day. The sculpture is located near European park where every European capital had planted a tree. It had been funded by the Lithuanian government and created by Lithuanains: Dalia Matulaitė, architects Jūras Balkevičius, Rimantas Buivydas.

Despite of this however the Latin plaque on the sculpture calls the King by his Polish name Jagiello. Not only that he is called "Wladislaus Jagiello, Rex Poloniae Et Dux Supremus Lithuaniae 1386-1434" (Wladislaus Jagiello, King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania 1386-1434", but he is also anachronistically called "Jagiello, Magnus Dux Lithuaniae 1377-1386" (Jagiello, Grand Duke of Lithuania 1377-1386) - even though in those days Lithuania had been his one and only realm and he was known by his Lithuanian name. Being an ethnic Lithuanian who accended to the Polish throne in his 40s Jogaila is known to have spoken Polish badly.

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Tajikistan

Tajikistan is a historic part of the Persian nation that had been conquered by Russia and then ruled by Soviet Union.

Soviet Union used this far-away land to expell Lithuanians to. Some 1000 Lithuanians and ethnic German citizens of Lithuania were forcibly relocated there in 1945 to work in cotton plantations; they had to live in windowless shacks made of straw and forced to suffer malnutrition. Some 300 died the first winter and merely 300 were still alive by the time Stalin died and persecutions subsided (giving a 30% survival rate).

Qurghonteppa town (once known in Russian as Kurgan-Tyube) was the center of Lithuanian expulsions. It's cemetery still has many Lithuanian bodies, although the graves are crumbling. The members of Lithuanian youth initiative "Mission: Siberia" (that came to take care of Lithuanian graves there in 2011) constructed a small monument for the expelled Lithuanians. Architect Algis Vyšniūnas had prepared a project for a much bigger monument, but the local stone could have been used only for a much smaller and simpler one that reminds of a memorial plaque. Word "Lietuviams" ("For Lithuanians") is written on it.

Participants of Mission Siberia 2011 stand near the small monument they have built at Qurghonteppa Lithuanian cemetery. Photo by Mission Siberia.

An earlier Lithuanian expedition (1991) by exile survivors erected a cross in Qurghonteppa with Lithuanian and Tajik inscriptions "For the Lithuanian exiled people, who suffered and died in Tajikistan while being innocent in years 1945-1946" (author: D. Gediminskas). The website of Lithuania's embassy in Kazakhstan informs that the cross has been since destroyed "due to Afghanistan war" (Afghanistan is merely 50 km away).

Lithuanian expellees also lived in the surrounding towns and villages of Vakhsh, Uyali, Kuybyshevsk, but little remains there as the cemeteries have been largely destroyed. The exile in Uyali has been especially fierce - out of 50 people merely 9 survived the first two years.

While nominally only the ethnic German minority of Lithuania was targetted for expulsions to Tajikistan, the pretexts of such persecution included "being a teacher of German language", "having a relative living in Germany", "married to a German", "being Lutheran" or "having a German-sounding surname" - therefore, many Lithuanians were expelled as well.

During the later Soviet era when the genocide subsided, Tajikistan became popular for Lithuanian mountaineers as it had some of the Soviet Union's highest mountains (non-Soviet mountains were inaccessible to most Lithuanians at the time as Soviet Union did not permit them to leave the Soviet Union). After doing the first accents they would often give Lithuania-realted names to the peaks. Thus there is Lithuanian peak (6080 m), Donelaitis peak (5837 m, named after the first person who wrote fiction in Lithuania), Čiurlionis peak (5794 m, named after the Lithuania's best known painter). There are many other Lithuanian-named peaks in Pamir. However, it should be noted that while these names are well known in the Lithuanian mountaineering community, actually they are typically not listed on any maps or non-Lithuanian online sources about Tajikistan.

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