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Lithuania's Tank men - how civilians stood against Soviet tanks and won Lithuania's freedom

On this day 31 years ago the USSR, or what was left of it, tried to crush Lithuania's independence movement and bring it back to the Soviet fold. Ten months earlier, on March 11, 1990, Lithuania declared its independence. It was the first of the Soviet republics to do so in open defiance of Moscow and the Soviet government. The Soviet government, headed by Micheal Gorbachev, responded to the Lithuanian declaration of independence with an ultimatum: renounce independence or face severe consequences which would include a possible military invasion. On March 17, the Lithuanians gave their answer, rejecting the Soviet demands and asking that western countries and “democratic nations” recognize their independence. In January 1991, the Soviets launched a wider military operation with elite KGB troops against Lithuania.

Their main targets were the TV tower and the studios of the single Lithuanian TV and radio stations thinking that if they could capture them they could silence the Lithuanian people's voice and block the world from witnessing what was going on there. Lithuanians realized this and rushed in huge numbers to the TV tower, determined to stop the Soviet troops from taking control at any cost. Many protesters stood defenseless against the rampaging Soviet tanks, refusing to budge even when the tanks rolled over some them. Tanks rammed into the unarmed demonstrators, who had been using their bodies to try to protect the building, and soldiers open fire on the crowd. Fourteen people were killed, and hundreds more were wounded.

Archival footage of the events that happened on January 13 1991.

The Soviets troops managed to occupy the building but not before the images of the massacre and violence they perpetuated were broadcast to worldwide, causing a huge international uproar. Gorbachev realized it was a hopeless cause, backed down, and ordered the Soviet troops to withdraw. The Lithuanians won, they were now finally free from the Soviet occupation of their lands which lasted for over 45 years. Lithuania has since designated January 13 as Freedom Defenders Day, paying tribute to the unarmed civilians who stood against the Soviet armed forces and guaranteed Lithuanian's freedom and sovereignty.

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