Lithuania has a long history with Russian aggression. After Soviet tanks rolled into Vilnius in 1944, resistance fighters battled the Red Army for nearly a decade from rickety hideaways in the country’s vast forests. Twenty thousand died, and Lithuania remained under Soviet control for nearly half a century. Today, Putin is stoking fears of another invasion: In 2014, he dispatched 9,000 soldiers and 55 ships for war games in Kaliningrad, a small Russian territory on the Lithuanian border.
As Lithuania gears up for war, Italian photographer Mattia Vacca traveled to the Rukla forest to document basic training exercises for the country’s new recruits. Lithuania’s swelling military ranks, Vacca says, reflect the upsurge in patriotic fervor stoked by Russian hostility. “We are ready to fight for our freedom,” Defense Minister Juozas Olekas declared recently, “for every centimeter of our land.”
Author: The New Republic Staff