After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24th, Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, has been organizing city-wide protests and initiatives to demonstrate Lithuania’s solidarity with Ukraine. The latest act of support—eight hot-air balloons, carrying 20-meter-long Ukrainian and Lithuanian flags. The balloons took off from Valakampiai Beach, which is one of the most favored spots in the city, on Saturday afternoon.
Vilnius is the only European capital to officially allow hot-air balloon rides over the city center. Therefore, the balloons carried the flags over the entire capital, uniting many Lithuanian hot-air balloon enthusiasts. Seven balloons held Ukrainian flags while the remaining one had a Lithuanian flag. The flags were created overnight and one of them was even made out of material specific to hot-air balloons.
“Vilnius is an open and brave European capital. Hot-air balloons flocking the sky above it have long been inseparable from our city and symbolize unbridled freedom and modernity. Therefore we wanted to show our compassion and support to Ukrainians with a symbolic union of Lithuanian and Ukrainian flags in our skies,” Inga Romanovskienė, director of Go Vilnius, the official tourism and business development agency, said. “Both the hot-air balloons and the flags manifest our will to help and support the country which suffers from undue aggression, and offer some hope and determination to its people.”
The hot-air balloons were manned by professional Lithuanian pilots, who were eager to participate in the initiative as many of them have friends fighting in Ukraine at the moment.
“Hot-air balloon pilot community stands behind those who are facing current atrocities in Ukraine. A great many of our pilot friends are fighting for their freedom, for their inherent right to live, breath, and look up at the skies,” added Giedrius Leškevičius, one of the pilots participating in the initiative. “The flag is the best symbol of resistance and victory, and the initiative was the reminder that each and every one of us should contribute to helping our brothers in Ukraine in any way we can.”
The hot-air balloon ride joined other initiatives in Vilnius and the entire country aimed at supporting Ukraine. The capital city has started the process of renaming the street, where the Embassy of Russia is based, to Ukrainian Heroes Street. Lithuanian residents privately donated over EUR 17M to “Blue / Yellow,” an NGO providing various aid to Ukraine. Also, entrepreneurial, educational, and cultural communities have teamed up to provide assistance in clothing, food, and humanitarian aid.