These Lithuanians Are the Perfect Picture of PatriotismNowhere is the tension between Russia and the West felt more acutely than in the Baltic states, where people live with the constant fear of war with their eastern neighbor.
Lithuania in particular remains under a state of high alert, with NATO troops, US special forces, and its own army poised to deter aggression and defend the country. The government essentially adopted a war footing three years ago when Russia annexed Crimea, and redoubled its efforts when Russia stationed ballistic missiles in nearby Kaliningrad.
A national draft requires all men aged 19 to 27 to serve nine months in the military, and people eagerly sign up—an idea that fascinated Italian photographer Mattia Vacca. “I was interested also in the patriotic feeling that pushed some citizens to take part in the training over the weekend although they return to their everyday life during the week,” he says.
Vacca spent eight days at two training camps in September, 2015. Getting in wasn’t easy—he spent months sending emails and calling officials within the Lithuanian military—but his persistence paid off. His series, How to Act in Extreme Situations or Instances of War (he took the name from a manual the government distributed to citizens), provides a fascinating look at ordinary citizens learning how to fight.
Vacca joined these would-be soldiers as they practiced marksmanship, honed their camouflage skills, and mastered basic tactical maneuvers. He also spent two nights patrolling the Rukla forest with green troops.
The recruits included full-time soldiers completing their six-month training, but Vacca also met many volunteers who hone their skills during the weekend before returning to daily life each Monday. “I hadn’t seen such a brave and patriotic feeling like that in my life,” says Vacca. He met a car salesman, a beautician, and a former mayor, and saw in each of them a great love of their country, and a willingness to defend it at all costs.
Photographer Mattia Vacca documented volunteers and draftees training at Lithuanian military camps.