Lithuanian Canadian community marches in Toronto to honor freedom fighters

The Lithuanian Canadian community in Toronto organized a march on January 9 to honor their country’s freedom defenders who resisted the Soviet Union in 1991.

The walkers carried handmade forget-me-not bouquets during the ‘Road of Life and Death’ starting at Lithuania Park in western Toronto, stopping at places in Lithuania along the way and ending at the Lithuanian Church of the Resurrection and the neighboring Lithuanian Nursing Home Labdara and Lithuanian Resurrection Credit Union in Etobicoke.

This Thursday, January 13, marks the 31st anniversary of the day the Soviet Union used force to overthrow the Lithuanian government, which declared Lithuanian independence the year before.

“For us, participating in this march was a way to join Lithuanians and friends of Lithuania across Canada and the world, as we ‘grew’ and ‘planted’ our forget-me-not flower meadow in major Lithuanian settlements. of Toronto to honor the past and cherish the role that our Lithuanian spaces have played in shaping our community, ”Skaidra Puodziunas, former president of the Canadian Lithuanian Youth Association, said in a statement.

“By wearing the forget-me-not flower badges, we remember and honor those killed in the Soviet military aggression in Vilnius in January 1991.”

Puodziunas was accompanied by Lina Samonis, president of the Canadian Association of Young Lithuanians, Monika Satkauskas, vice-president of the association, and Daina Sablinskas, another former president of the association.

Puodziunas said it was the leadership of Lithuanian Ambassador to Canada Darius Skusevicius who, with a team, organized a march in Ottawa and called on others to do the same in across the country, which inspired their march to Toronto.

On January 11, 1991, Soviet troops stormed the Press Palace, the seat of most Lithuanian newspapers.

Thousands of unarmed people gathered near parliament, television towers and radio and television headquarters to defend Lithuania’s campaign for independence.

The BBC reported on January 13, 1991 that Soviet troops broke the defenses of more than 1,000 demonstrators gathered in front of the television tower in the capital Vilnius to take a stand against the Soviet army. Many Lithuanians refused to retreat, and sporadic gunfire continued for at least 90 minutes.

Fourteen people died and more than 700 unarmed civilians were injured.

Finally, Boris Yeltsin, then President of the Russian Federation, finally recognized the independence of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania on September 7, 1991; the three nations were admitted to the United Nations later that month.

At the end of the year, the Soviet Union was replaced by the Commonwealth of Independent Republics, with many states achieving full independence. Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev resigned from his post on Christmas Day 1991.

The walk west of Toronto is nine kilometers – the same distance between the Lithuanian TV Tower, where the defenders of freedom were killed, and the Antakalnis Cemetery in Lithuania, where they are buried, Puodziunas explained.

The 2016 census reported nearly 60,000 people of Lithuanian origin in Canada. The vast majority, 59 percent, live in Ontario, but significant populations live in British Columbia, Quebec and Alberta.

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