Brawl in Vilnius after flowers placed on destroyed Russian tank
Police in Vilnius have launched an investigation into a series of incidents, after pro-Russian sympathisers put tributes on a destroyed tank in the city's main square.
On Sunday evening, a fight broke out after a group of Russian supporters placed flowers and lit candles on the Russian tank, which was destroyed in fighting outside Kyiv, and donated by Ukraine to Lithuania.
Punches were reportedly thrown between supporters of Russia and Ukraine, and police say one man was injured in the brawl in Vilnius's Cathedral Square. Some 20-30 people participated.
Similar altercations were reported on 24 February, the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion.
Galvoju išlįsiu vakare pažiūrėti prie tanko. Pataikiau pačiu laiku - pagarsėjęs vatnikas ir NATO nekentėjas Jonas...
Posted by Karolis Žukauskas on Monday, February 27, 2023
The incidents -- with the first reportedly involving a popular standup comedian and aide to the mayor of Vilnius as bystanders -- highlight the divisive nature of the Ukraine war in Lithuania.
"This action was very negatively evaluated by Lithuanian society," Remigijus Šimašius, Mayor of Vilnius said in a statement sent to Euronews, adding it had helped "expose those who support Russia's aggression".
"Not all of Lithuania's Russians support Russia's aggression against Ukraine - in my opinion, they are an absolute minority. Perhaps 1-3% of all Lithuanian residents," he said.
While the vast majority of Lithuanians fiercely support Ukraine, remembering the country's devastating occupation by the USSR, a small minority of Russian speakers have defended Moscow and supported its aims.
"A war is a terrible thing," Professor Stanislovas Tomas, an advocate for Lithuania's Russian-speaking minority, told Euronews.
"However... the Lithuanian government has pushed the Russian language minority to bring flowers to the damaged Russian tank... [by] treating them as enemies."
Critics have blasted a series of moves by the authorities, such as taking down a Stalin-era WW2 memorial, as divisive, though supporters say they are necessary to show solidarity with Kyiv.
Lithuania is also home to tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees.
Vilnius Mayor candidate Tomas Vytautas Raskevičius, facing elections this Sunday, brought a washing machine to the Russian tank as a political stunt.
"We have heard countless stories from Ukraine about Russian soldiers stealing household appliances and transporting them to Russia in tanks - a reminder of the despicable actions of Russian soldiers," said the current mayor Šimašius.
Police investigating the tank incidents are looking into possible violations of the ban on displaying Soviet symbols, punishable by a fine of up to €700.
Lithuanian law currently prohibits the distribution and display of USSR, Nazi Germany, Lithuanian SSR flags, coats of arms and symbols, including the Soviet hammer and sickle and the Soviet red five-pointed star.
The Russian T-72B tank, destroyed by the Ukrainian army, went on display in Vilnius last week.
According to LRT, Lithuania's public broadcaster, a white BMW with the license plate “Moi Mir” (“My world” in Russian) pulled up to the tank on Sunday evening.
A group of men and women got out and laid red carnations on the tank.
In footage shared widely on social media, they are then seen engaging with bystanders in heated discussions, with one unidentified man being punched, according to Vilnius County Chief Police Commissariat, Julija Samorokovskaja.
Whether the victim placed the flowers or was an outraged passerby is not known.