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'It Still Moves Me To This Day': Photographer Recalls 1968 Invasion Of Czechoslovakia

When tanks rolled into Prague overnight on August 20-21, 1968, photographer Libor Hajsky was only 20 years old. He had just returned from a holiday abroad and the Soviet-led invasion took him by surprise -- along with the rest of the country.

As Soviet troops and vehicles began appearing in his hometown, he grabbed his cameras and headed into the streets of the Czechoslovak capital. By late morning on August 21, 1968, he had made his way to the city's main thoroughfare, Wenceslas Square, after stopping off on the way to pick up some film at the Czechoslovak News Agency where he worked.

Besides the standard black-and-white film, he also took a couple of color rolls with him, which were not widely in use at the time.

Despite taking hundreds of pictures that day, only the two rolls of color film remain. A few days after arriving in Prague, Hajsky says, Soviet troops raided his news agency, seized all the photos of the invasion that they could find, and "burned them to embers."

The only reason the color rolls survived was because they took so long to develop. When the surviving prints came back from the laboratory a couple of weeks later, they were quietly shelved. Hajsky didn't actually get to see the pictures he took until more than 21 years later, after the Velvet Revolution in 1989.

You can watch Libor Hajsky talk about his memories of the invasion here.

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At least 15 people died outside Czechoslovak Radio headquarters that day, five of them when an unmanned truck plowed into the crowd for reasons that are still unclear.

Hajsky was standing just a few meters away from the incident and took this picture. Years later, he found out that the man in the center dressed in red was called Vaclav Sadilek.

When Hajsky attended a public showing of his photos more than two decades later, after the Velvet Revolution, a young man came up and introduced himself, saying he recognized his father in one of the pictures. "He said that for 21 years they had no idea what had happened to him or how it happened," says Hajsky. "He had recognized him there [in the picture]. It was quite an emotional moment."
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Coilin O'Connor

Coilin O'Connor is a web producer in the Central Newsroom of RFE/RL in Prague.