Lithuanians stood in a human chain stretching more than 30 kilometers from Vilnius to the border with Belarus on August 23 in a show of support for protesters in their neighboring country who are calling for the end of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s rule.
Organizers estimated that up to 50,000 people participated, many of them dressed in white and wearing face masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda, who participated along with former leaders of the Baltic country, said he was pleased to join so many people in a demonstration of unity with people of Belarus.
"We are with you, free Belarus, and we extend our hand to you," Nauseda said after linking hands at the border in the “Freedom Way” human chain.
"The nations who had lost their freedom cherish it the most. That is why Lithuania did not hesitate to declare its full support to the Belarusian people who seek to shed the shackles of captivity," he said.
U.S. Ambassador to Lithuania Robert Gilchrist was also in the chain, joining many who held the Belarus opposition's red-and-white flag.
In Vilnius, a hot-air balloon lifted the flag above Cathedral Square, and planes flew over releasing flowers into the crowd.
Opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who has left Belarus for Lithuania, did not attend because of security concerns, according to her team. But she issued a video acknowledging the gesture in the country where she has been staying since the election.
"More than anyone else, you can understand Belarusians, because not so long ago you went through the same as we do now," Tsikhanouskaya said.
Tsikhanouskaya was the main opposition candidate in the August 9 presidential election that officials say Lukashenka won by a landslide. The opposition has disputed the results and said the election was rigged.
Since the election there have been protests daily calling for new elections and Lukashenka’s ouster. The streets of the capital, Minsk, were packed with protesters again on August 23.
The Lithuanian human chain marked the anniversary of a mass protest on August 23, 1989, when 2 million people joined arms across the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Known as the Baltic Way, it was a peaceful protest against authoritarian Soviet rule.
Hundreds of people also marched on August 23 in Latvia along the border with Belarus and then formed a human chain in the village of Piedruja as Belarusian border guards looked on from the other side of the Daugava River.
Solidarity rallies and human chains were also held in other European countries, including Estonia and the Czech Republic.
Hundreds of people turned out in Washington to form a human chain, wearing masks and standing about 2 meters apart in keeping with measures to control the spread of the coronavirus. They expressed support for Belarus as they commemorated the 31st anniversary of the Baltic Way.