By Andrius Sytas
VILNIUS (Reuters) – “Dear passengers of train no. 29, Moscow-Kaliningrad. Today, Putin is killing civilians in Ukraine. Do you support this?” an announcer repeats in Russian at Vilnius station while the service stops there.
Two dozen large pictures from the war in Ukraine, each with the same message, were put up on Friday morning on either side of the platform reserved for the Russian transit trains.
The trains, up to six per day, pause for around 10 minutes in Vilnius, capital of EU-member Lithuania, as they pass to and from Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave – sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland – and cities such as Moscow and St Petersburg, via Belarus.
Under a two decade old agreement between Lithuania, Russia and the European Union, passengers are issued Lithuanian visas for the transit-only services, which are powered by a Lithuanian locomotive for the portion of the journey inside the country.
“As far as we know, Russians are shielded from what is happening in Ukraine. Here in Vilnius railway station, we have a possibility to show at least a small piece of what is happening,” Mantas Dubauskas, a spokesperson for the state-owned Lithuanian railways, said.
“It’s the least that we can do,” he added. “Maybe we can change the minds of a very small number of passengers”.
The pictures, provided by Ukrainian photographers, show the dead and injured, people grieving, destroyed buildings and bridges, and refugees with small children escaping the country.
Moscow calls its actions in Ukraine a “special military operation” to disarm its neighbour. The Kremlin says Russian forces have not targeted civilians.
Russia’s parliament this month passed a law imposing a jail term of up to 15 years for spreading intentionally “fake” news about the military.
Russian officials have said that false information has been spread by Russia’s enemies such as the United States and its Western European allies in an attempt to sow discord among the Russian people.
There were no people seen at the windows of the train on Friday morning. No one disembarked from or joined the service as no tickets have been sold to and from the station for the Russian trains since the COVID-19 lockdown in early 2020. It was not known how many passengers were on the train.
Russian aircraft between Kaliningrad and Russia fly over the international waters of the Baltic Sea, prolonging the journey, after Lithuania and other EU countries banned them from their airspace in response to Russia’s attack on Ukraine.
(Reporting by Andrius Sytas in Vilnius; Editing by Alison Williams)