BenasBenGe Benas Gerdziunas

Multimedia journalist previously reporting from the EU, Balkans, Belarus, Middle East and Ukraine. Contributing to Lithuania’s national broadcaster (LRT) and Deutsche Welle. Published by AFP, Al Jazeera, Bloomberg Magazine, Politico, Spiegel, The Independent, Vice News, and others.

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Ukraine: three years of failed peace
Ukraine
By Benas Gerdziunas
06 Dec 2018

February 11, 2018 marked the three year anniversary since the last ceasefire. Despite it, dozens are killed and injured every month,. Frontlines keep shifting, and the war in Europe goes on. [Potential multimedia format: http://www.benge.co/home97]

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Kurds in Syria torn between ISIS and ...
Deir Ezzor
By Benas Gerdziunas
30 Nov 2018

As the end of ISIS draws near, battles inflict a heavy toll on Kurds and Arabs in Northern Syria.

And now, following U.S. President Donald Trump announcement, Kurds are having to face a new threat from Turkey.

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Chasing Druze reincarnations on Mount...
Beirut
By Benas Gerdziunas
05 Mar 2018

Nibal remembers, like many others do; he remembers his violent death in Lebanon’s 15 year long civil war. Just three years old, Nibal guided his family to the ‘previous’ home on Mount Lebanon. Inside, he knew the names and stories of each person in his ‘old family.’ “He remembers,” Nibal’s friends introduced him. The two ominous words echoe from mouth to mouth among the Druze, without the heavy weight of what to some others may seem as an antiquated spiritual hearsay. Belief in reincarnation, or ‘Taqamus’ in Arabic - loosely translated as ‘wearing another shirt’ - forms a big part of the Druze minority in Lebanon, who have historically escaped persecution in the fortress-like terrain on Mount Lebanon, and managed to coexist under succession of rulers since the faith’s split from Islam in the 11th century. Some historians even attribute Fakhr-Al-Din, the Druze leader in the 17th century, as the founder of modern Lebanon. The religion itself remains submerged in secrecy, with its teaching available only to those who embark on a life-long path of becoming a sheikh. In the wake of Lebanon’s 15 year old civil war, a generation of children grew up remembering their violent deaths. Far from sporadic instances, people like Nibal grew up studying their ‘previous’ lives, questioning how much of that knowledge influenced their present-life decisions. During my six month stay in Lebanon, I met various individuals among the Druze religious and cultural community, and explored the historic Mount Lebanon areas. After an initial meeting, I’m maintaining contact with the Druze Council Minister of Culture, whose 24 year old son is currently hospitalised with cancer. The philosophy of reincarnation has historically made the Druze into fearsome fighters, and in today’s world, has helped families confront death. For this photoessay / long-form story, I am focusing on one aspect of the Druze faith - the unwavering belief in reincarnation. To supplement the interviews and observations, I have studied Druze history, as well as the religious beliefs available to the public.

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Tracing Beirut's Faultlines
beirut
By Benas Gerdziunas
02 Mar 2018

Almost three decades have passed since the end of Lebanon’s civil war. Beirut, however, remains locked in a post-conflict state, submerged in an urban psychosis. Fuelled by expandable refugee labour from neighbouring Syria, and funded by mass private wealth and fleeing public sector, Beirut is again harbouring the same social conditions preluding previous conflicts. Newfound wealth has divided the emerging elites from impoverished peripheries, and entrenched the power of the once warlords, now made into suited parliamentarians.

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Baltic minority region scapegoated fo...
Salcininkai
By Benas Gerdziunas
05 Oct 2017

Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region.

In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion.

In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day.

Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party.

I visited the area to speak to the local people, who are mostly ignored in the public discourse, and explore some of the underlying issues in the region.

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Baltic minority region scapegoated fo...
Salcininkai
By Benas Gerdziunas
20 Sep 2017

Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. Town square in Salcininkai, a city of roughly 6,300 people. The streets and local infrastructure is visible well kept. Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. Town square in Salcininkai, a city of roughly 6,300 people. The streets and local infrastructure is visible well kept. Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. Inside a small Christian Orthodox church on the outskirts of Salcininkai, which draws around 40 people every Sunday, according to Alexander. Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. Inside a small Christian Orthodox church on the outskirts of Salcininkai, which draws around 40 people every Sunday, according to Alexander. Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. Signpost, indicating Salcininkai’ proximity to Belarus - Lyda and Minsk are found nearby. Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. Signpost, indicating Salcininkai’ proximity to Belarus - Lyda and Minsk are found nearby. Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. Alexander, the church caretaker. He preferred not to give his last name, “we spoke of politics,” he laughed. Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. Alexander, the church caretaker. He preferred not to give his last name, “we spoke of politics,” he laughed. Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. Jolanta, Zydre, and Beata, all 24 years old. All three come from different language backgrounds, but they mostly speak Lithuanian among themselves. Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. Jolanta, Zydre, and Beata, all 24 years old. All three come from different language backgrounds, but they mostly speak Lithuanian among themselves. Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. Beata finished her university in Poznan, Poland, yet returned home to work in tourism. Jolanta tries to push her young daughter towards Lithuanian education. “But even in the Lithuanian nursery they use Polish,” said Jolanta, moments later speaking to her daughter in Russian. Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. Beata finished her university in Poznan, Poland, yet returned home to work in tourism. Jolanta tries to push her young daughter towards Lithuanian education. “But even in the Lithuanian nursery they use Polish,” said Jolanta, moments later speaking to her daughter in Russian. Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. Vidmantas Zilius, director of the Lithuanian school in Salcininkai. He is also a member of the center-right, The Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrat party. After living in the area since 1989, he said; “This region is very detached. It takes years of living here to really understand this place.” Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. Vidmantas Zilius, director of the Lithuanian school in Salcininkai. He is also a member of the center-right, The Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrat party. After living in the area since 1989, he said; “This region is very detached. It takes years of living here to really understand this place.” Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. Fields and individual gardens around Salcininkai are cultivated for vegetables and fruits. Many elderly can be found along the city lake and river shores, fishing. Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. Fields and individual gardens around Salcininkai are cultivated for vegetables and fruits. Many elderly can be found along the city lake and river shores, fishing. Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. Tomas Saliatyckis wears a Lithuanian Military t-shirt under his barista apron. His cafe serves as a cultural center for meetings and discussions, and also runs a social scheme - you can overpay your coffee, the money going for someone who can’t afford it. Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. Tomas Saliatyckis wears a Lithuanian Military t-shirt under his barista apron. His cafe serves as a cultural center for meetings and discussions, and also runs a social scheme - you can overpay your coffee, the money going for someone who can’t afford it. Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. Lithuanian Scouts Union has its base is the Lithuanian “Tukstantmecio” school. Raimondas Silobritas, 18, is also member of the paramilitary force, the Riflemen Union. “There, we have students from other nationalities, too,” he said. However, a parallel Polish scout group exists in Salcininkai. Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. Lithuanian Scouts Union has its base is the Lithuanian “Tukstantmecio” school. Raimondas Silobritas, 18, is also member of the paramilitary force, the Riflemen Union. “There, we have students from other nationalities, too,” he said. However, a parallel Polish scout group exists in Salcininkai. Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. One of the leaders, school’s sports teacher, Kestutis Peleckis said the organisation “also encourages patriotism.” He added: “When we need to organise national holiday celebrations, we find little support with the local government,” he claimed. Lithuania’s coat of arms and a map depicting shifting national borders - parts of it now in Poland - hang on the wall. Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. One of the leaders, school’s sports teacher, Kestutis Peleckis said the organisation “also encourages patriotism.” He added: “When we need to organise national holiday celebrations, we find little support with the local government,” he claimed. Lithuania’s coat of arms and a map depicting shifting national borders - parts of it now in Poland - hang on the wall. Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. Lithuanian-Belarusian border, November, 2016. Patrolling the Schengen border is mostly undertaken by foot and car patrols. The main challenges are cigarettes contraband and illegal migration. Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. Lithuanian-Belarusian border, November, 2016. Patrolling the Schengen border is mostly undertaken by foot and car patrols. The main challenges are cigarettes contraband and illegal migration. Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. The music and dance groups in Salcininkai Cultural Center are funded by the regional council, and mostly play Polish folklore. “We also learn Lithuanian, Belarusian, Ukrainian, Gipsy and Jewish dance and music,” said the group’s leader, Barbara Suckel, “our parents had to learn Russian, now everything is going back to normal centered on Lithuanian language.” Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. The music and dance groups in Salcininkai Cultural Center are funded by the regional council, and mostly play Polish folklore. “We also learn Lithuanian, Belarusian, Ukrainian, Gipsy and Jewish dance and music,” said the group’s leader, Barbara Suckel, “our parents had to learn Russian, now everything is going back to normal centered on Lithuanian language.” Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. Zydre, sipping coffee next to a redeveloped lakeside beach, said: “The problem here is like elsewhere in the provinces - there just isn’t that much to do.” Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. Zydre, sipping coffee next to a redeveloped lakeside beach, said: “The problem here is like elsewhere in the provinces - there just isn’t that much to do.” Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party.

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Ghostly remains of Tsar’s European ar...
Kaunas
By Benas Gerdziunas
21 Jul 2017

A photoessay, exploring a unique snapshot of European history, stretching from the mighty symbols of Russian Empire’s oppression, to the Holocaust and KGB’s atrocities.Russian Tsar Alexander II, chose Kaunas, Lithuania as the location for the most modern fortress in the Russian Empire. Found in a strategic location in the middle of two rivers, the city has long stood as the barrier between East and West during the Teutonic conquests, Nordic Wars, Napoleonic Wars and both World Wars. Following the construction of thirteen forts - complete with weapons infrastructure, military hospitals and churches - every third man in Kaunas was a soldier in the Russian Tsar’s army. In the onset of World War One, the fortress fell in just over a week, taking the lives of 20,000 defending soldiers with it. Forward 26 years, the 13 forts ringing Kaunas served as a grim backdrop to Holocaust, where Nazis and local collaborators executed over 30,000 Lithuanian Jews. Intermittently, the forts served as German ‘stalags’ and later, sites of KGB prisons. In total, over 50,000 people were executed there. Today, the forts in Lithuania’s second largest city Kaunas stand mostly abandoned. Some served as temporary bases for newly reestablished Lithuanian military in the 1990s, some were fitted out for paintball tournaments and children’s playgrounds, as some continued to decay amongst empty bottles and cigarette butts - number of lives were claimed by the treacherous network of tunnels and wells inside. In December 2016, the forts were bought-out by the renewed Kaunas leadership, which plan to establish a tourist trail and properly mourn the tragedies, and the structural beauties of the fortresses.

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Saber Strike 2017 - NATO exercises in...
Pabrade
By Benas Gerdziunas
16 Jul 2017

Lithuanian military and its NATO allies, trained to fight together in urban conflict scenarios.

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Confronting Belgium's colonial legacy
Brussels
By Benas Gerdziunas
03 Jul 2017

Decades after Belgian rule in Congo ended, and a century after the atrocities in Congo Free State - where up to 10-15 million Africans were killed - people in Belgium are beginning to confront the troubled history. The unaddressed atrocities are fuelling frustration among the Congolese, who are to this day surrounded by statues, buildings and streets dedicated to one of history’s most brutal rulers. Through art, culture and advocacy, the diaspora and Belgian people are paving the way for an uneasy reconciliation of the past.

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Despite shelling, Ukrainian frontline...
Marinka
By Benas Gerdziunas
27 Mar 2017

Ukrainian-controlled town in the suburbs of Donetsk. Even as shells land weekly - in some periods daily - UN is funding efforts to rebuild the town. Local construction crews are hired to repair and refurbish various houses and individual apartments. This both employs the largely stagnant local population, and provides permanent shelter solutions. One of the main characters is Yuri Nagin - who served in the same town with the Ukrainian army, met a local woman, and has since stayed to live with her and the children in their home, 100 meters from the frontline. His job is to repair homes, which were destroyed in the artillery duels.

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Ukraine B-Roll
Mariupol, Marinka, Pavlopil
By Benas Gerdziunas
24 Feb 2017

Abandoned Ukrainian positions, front line near Mariupol, front line school in Marinka,

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Lithuanian government and volunteers ...
Donetsk
By Benas Gerdziunas
22 Feb 2017

Lithuanian volunteers raised over 110,000 euros Jan. 13, for Ukraine in an event televised by the national broadcaster. Among pop stars, Lithuania’s president Dalia Grybauskaite, prime minister and other officials praised Ukraine’s efforts against aggression. So far, Lithuania has been the only NATO country to supply Ukraine with lethal aid. I’d like to pitch a story about Lithuania’s continuing support for Ukraine, leading with Blue/Yellow volunteers - who initiated the national fundraiser - as they deliver aid to various Ukrainian units stationed along the frontline. Additionally, I will interview Lithuania’s foreign minister Linas Linkevicius and Ukrainian officials on the continuing symbolic, and also military cooperation between the two countries. “Lithuania can understand our Ukrainian brothers. No one will forget that in January 1991, a group of Ukrainian volunteers was among the parliament defenders,” said president Dalia Grybauskaite, referring to Lithuania’s independence fights in January 13, 1991 - “For your, and our freedom,” she added.

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Baltic Paramilitary Prepares for Hybr...
Lithuania
By Benas Gerdziunas
17 Feb 2017

The Lithuanian Riflemen’s Union, a paramilitary organisation made up of civilian volunteers, comprises almost 10,000 members and is growing. It has seen a spike in membership since the conflict in Ukraine began. In light of uncertain United States commitment to NATO - following the election of Trump - and deteriorating security situation in the region, the Baltic paramilitaries may once play a key part in defending the countries against a potential Russian foe. (Multimedia draft: http://rokasanisas.com/riflemen/)

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Ukraine- The lasting impact of landmi...
Ukraine
By Benas Gerdziunas
27 Jan 2017

The United Nations estimates some 30,000 square kilometres of battlefields in eastern Ukraine are strewn with landmines, while the total number deployed since war broke out 2014 remains unknown. Civilians, who in some cases are attempting to return home following displacement, are particularly at risk. Despite a September 2014 deal between parties engaged in eastern Ukraine fighting, more than 260 civilians have been killed by landmines since the beginning of hostilities, while more than 450 civilians have sustained serious injuries from mines.

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Chechens seeking asylum in EU strande...
Brest
By Benas Gerdziunas
22 Sep 2016

Chechens fleeing Kadyrov's regime are stuck on the Belarus-Polish border. With a few exceptions, Polish authorities are refusing to accept their applications for asylum. Elsewhere, their plight is largely undocumented and ignored.

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Ukraine: The Wait
Kiev, Ukraine
By Benas Gerdziunas
06 Dec 2015

Completed over the course of three trips to Ukraine in 2014/15, this multimedia piece explores the heavy silence of war - away from the war porn of frontline fighting and Western-Russain power plays. With Ukraine slipping back into the corrupt era of Yanukovich, the anxious wait for reforms, true independence and peace continues.

Media created

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Belgium and Congo-9
Brussels
By Benas Gerdziunas
20 Apr 2017

The unofficial Lumumba library at the heart of Matonge is run by a charismatic and passionate activist, Philip Buyck. Together with other campaigners and the Congolese diaspora, he continues in the push towards having an official Place Lumumba recognised a few blocks away.

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Belgium and Congo-7
Brussels
By Benas Gerdziunas
21 Apr 2017

Womba Konga, known by his artist name Pitcho, organised the festival Congolisation in Brussels to raise awareness for African artists, and also, reconcile the Congolese diaspora’s search for identity. “In Belgium, no one saw black people,” he said - “We can leave Leopold avenues, but can’t have a Lumumba place,” he said, “who was killed by the Belgians.”

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Belgium and Congo-5
Brussels
By Benas Gerdziunas
17 Apr 2017

Ylhan Delvaux sits inside his old family home, which is now subdivided and rented out; he still lives on the top floor. “The smell is the same as it was in my childhood, I always feel like my mother is looking at me.” Ylhan’s Congolese-Belgian mother, burned herself in Luxenbourg in a violent protest against racism.

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Belgium and Congo-4
Brussels
By Benas Gerdziunas
20 Apr 2017

Nightime in the market, however, attracts a different smell of drug dealing altogether. This is one of the reasons the community is under pressure from Ixelles governors, who want to link the European Quarter with the up-scale Avenue Louise, by untangling the community in Matonge.

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Belgium and Congo-2
Brussels
By Benas Gerdziunas
20 Apr 2017

Relics from colonial era are still everywhere, including the monumental Justice Palace. However, little is done to acknowledge the atrocities committed in Congo, which overshadowed the colonial wealth brought back to the country.

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Belgium and Congo-3
Brussels
By Benas Gerdziunas
20 Apr 2017

Matonge, the Congolese neighbourhood in Brussels, has a lively African market, which allegedly draws African visitors from all over central Europe. The clagger of hairdressing saloons, beating music and unique smells fill the air in daytime.

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Belgium and Congo-1
Brussels
By Benas Gerdziunas
11 May 2017

The statue of King Leopold II overshadows a walking tour, organised for adult and teenage audiences seeking to learn about the Congolese past, and learn more about the diaspora in the country. “There was an exhibition at the Africa Museum 5-6 years ago, and it was basically just apologetic about Belgium in Congo,” said Annekien Van Vaerenbergh, a guide working with Vizit for more than two decades.

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Marinka Rebuilding-10
Marinka
By Benas Gerdziunas
09 Feb 2017

Oksana's neighbour receives fire extuingusher supplied by international volunteers. Because of it, a number of house fires were later extuingished, when set alight by shrapnel. "Bullets missed twice when repairing something on the roof," she added.

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Marinka Rebuilding-11
Marinka
By Benas Gerdziunas
09 Feb 2017

Oksana Sidorenko, Artiom’s mother, sprints across a sniper corridor in Marinka in the Donetsk region. Reminiscent of scenes from the siege of Sarajevo, residents must sprint across a street, as Russian-backed separatists continue to fire from positions directly in front. So far, two civilians have been hit, two soldiers killed and many more have experienced near-misses, according to locals.

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Marinka Rebuilding-8
Marinka
By Benas Gerdziunas
08 Feb 2017

Oksana's son Artiom, 14, watches a film inside his front line home in Marinka in the Donetsk region. Just 10 minutes earlier, a fragment of a shell fell in the backyard. The house is dotted with bullet holes from a sniper position directly opposite. The separatist positions are less than 300 meters away and the Ukrainian military are 50 meters away.

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Marinka Rebuilding-9
Marinka
By Benas Gerdziunas
09 Feb 2017

An apartment block destroyed by artillery fire in Marinka. A U.N.-funded program tears down badly-damaged apartment blocks to be rebuilt, while those with only moderate damage are refitted by local construction crews.

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Marinka Rebuilding-6
Marinka
By Benas Gerdziunas
09 Feb 2017

An apartment under complete refurbishment in Marinka, Donetsk region.

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Marinka Rebuilding-7
Marinka
By Benas Gerdziunas
09 Feb 2017

Oksana Sidorenko smokes in front of her home. Metal plate is bolted to the living room window; shrapnel holes have punctured some other windows in the house.

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Marinka Rebuilding-5
Marinka
By Benas Gerdziunas
09 Feb 2017

Yura Nogin repairs war-damaged buildings in Marinka, where he now lives with Oksana Sidorenko, whom he met while serving with an artillery detachment in the town.

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Marinka Rebuilding-3
Marinka
By Benas Gerdziunas
09 Feb 2017

Pavel Chistokletov is the head of a local construction crew in Marinka. His own apartment was destroyed in the shelling.

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Marinka Rebuilding-4
Marinka
By Benas Gerdziunas
09 Feb 2017

Destroyed apartment block in Marinka, Donetsk region. Pavel's apartment can be seen on the first floor. Graffiti reads in Russian: "What for?"

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Marinka Rebuilding-2
Marinka
By Benas Gerdziunas
09 Feb 2017

Apartment block destroyed by a Grad rocket-artillery in Marinka, Donetsk region. The building was destroyed in the early stages of the war, in 2014.

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Marinka Rebuilding-1
Marinka
By Benas Gerdziunas
09 Feb 2017

Oksana Sidorenko leaves her frontline home in Marinka. Trenches are less than 100 meters away and her home gets routinely sprayed with shrapnel.

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Ukrainian trenches on the front line ...
Mariupol
By Benas Gerdziunas
24 Feb 2017

Ukrainian trenches on the front line near Mariupol, Donetsk region

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Ukrainian trenches on the front line ...
Mariupol
By Benas Gerdziunas
24 Feb 2017

Ukrainian trenches on the front line near Mariupol, Donetsk region

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Ukrainian trenches on the front line ...
Mariupol
By Benas Gerdziunas
24 Feb 2017

Ukrainian trenches on the front line near Mariupol, Donetsk region

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Headteacher in a front line school, M...
Mariupol
By Benas Gerdziunas
24 Feb 2017

Headteacher in a front line school, Marinka, Donetsk region

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Basedment bunker in a front line scho...
Mariupol
By Benas Gerdziunas
24 Feb 2017

Basedment bunker in a front line school, Marinka, Donetsk region

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Basedment bunker in a front line scho...
Mariupol
By Benas Gerdziunas
24 Feb 2017

Basedment bunker in a front line school, Marinka, Donetsk region

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Children in a front line school, Mari...
Mariupol
By Benas Gerdziunas
24 Feb 2017

Children in a front line school, Marinka, Donetsk region
(Written permission given to film)

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War destroyed buildings under reconst...
Mariupol
By Benas Gerdziunas
24 Feb 2017

War destroyed buildings under reconstruction in Marinka, Donetsk region

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Abandoned Ukraine positions near Mari...
Mariupol
By Benas Gerdziunas
12 Feb 2017

Abandoned Ukraine positions near Mariupol, Donetsk region.

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Abandoned Ukraine positions near Mari...
Mariupol
By Benas Gerdziunas
07 Feb 2017

Abandoned Ukraine positions near Mariupol, Donetsk region

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Abandoned Ukraine positions near Mari...
Mariupol
By Benas Gerdziunas
07 Feb 2017

Abandoned Ukraine positions near Mariupol, Donetsk region

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Abandoned Ukraine positions near Mari...
Mariupol
By Benas Gerdziunas
07 Feb 2017

Abandoned Ukraine positions near Mariupol, Donetsk region

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Ukrainian positions on the front line...
Mariupol
By Benas Gerdziunas
24 Feb 2017

Ukrainian positions on the front line near Mariupol, Donetsk region

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Ukrainian positions on the front line...
Mariupol
By Benas Gerdziunas
24 Feb 2017

Ukrainian positions on the front line near Mariupol, Donetsk region

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Ukrainian positions on the front line...
Mariupol
By Benas Gerdziunas
24 Feb 2017

Ukrainian positions on the front line near Mariupol, Donetsk region

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Benas Gerdziunas Lithuania 12
Lithuania
By Benas Gerdziunas
13 Nov 2016

Vytautas Pusvaskis joined the Soviet resistance in 1945 when he was 15 years old. He worked as an informant and a helper due to his young age. Vytautas was eventually captured and sentenced to death. At the same time, death was abolished in the Soviet Union and he was instead sent to a forced labour camp in Moldova, where he survived for 8 years before faking an illness and securing release. “I joined the RU in 1991, and I’m 87 years old now; and so I still serve.”

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Benas Gerdziunas Lithuania 13
Lithuania
By Benas Gerdziunas
13 Nov 2016

Youngsters can join the union at the age of 11, but will not touch a real weapon until the age of 18. Regardless, militarised structure and discipline takes the leading role in their activities.

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Benas Gerdziunas Lithuania 09
Lithuania
By Benas Gerdziunas
06 Nov 2016

KASP is bogged down in close-quarters combat, with the heavily entrenched RU fighters.

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Benas Gerdziunas Lithuania 10
Lithuania
By Benas Gerdziunas
06 Nov 2016

Flare launched by the attacking military forces signals for the three-pronged attack to begin; heavy snow has fallen overnight.

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Benas Gerdziunas Lithuania 06
Lithuania
By Benas Gerdziunas
05 Nov 2016

Members of the RU prepare a meal on an open fire. All supplies are self-funded.