He's the patriotic pilot who defied KGB orders to drop flowers on a 675-kilometre human chain spanning Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
Two million people had joined hands on August 23, 1989 — 30 years ago today — calling for independence from the Soviet Union.
To support them, pilot Vytautas Tamošiūnas ignored a flying ban to scatter tonnes of blooms on peaceful protesters in Lithuania.
“I don’t see myself as a hero," Tamošiūnas told Euronews ahead of Friday's anniversary. "The sense that the Soviet Union will eventually disintegrate was overwhelming then, so many dared to poke the dying lion.”
Tamošiūnas said the flower-scattering idea had come from Algimantas Norvilas, who would go on to be one of the signatories of a 1990 act that re-established Lithuania's independence from the Soviet Union.
“There was an injunction banning all flights that day, including regular flights by Aeroflot, the Soviet airline. But as I had not received any order to stay on the ground that day, I felt I was not doing anything very bad,” Lithuanian pilot Tamošiūnas recalled, smirking.
The night before the Baltic Way human chain, he and another pilot, Kazimieras Šalčius, painted the tails of their AN-2 aircraft, replacing the USSR flag with the colours of the Lithuanian one: yellow, green and red.
“Only a few people knew about our flights on August 23 – we did not understandably want to tell anyone what route we were to take, in what height, who will be our second pilots, where we were going to refill our fuel tanks et cetera. The precautions we were taking were meant to prevent any provocations and sabotage,” he said.
The men took off from Pociūnai aerodrome, near Kaunas. The flowers plucked throughout Lithuania has been clandestinely brought to the aerodrome.
After the flower-strewing job had been done, he landed in an aerodrome close to Ukmergė, some 70 kilometres away, where the pilot picked the second load.
“There appeared to be so many flowers brought in that I needed to make perhaps seven landings and as many take-offs in Ukmerge aerodrome to pick and scatter them all. I heard later that it took 12 trucks to deliver them from Kaunas to Ukmergė. With the bulk of the blossoms dispersed, the remainder was scattered over the Soviet military bases,” Tamošiūnas said.
Mostly lilacs, gladioluses, sun-flowers, echinacea and phloxes were dispersed. Flying roughly 10-12 metres over the people’s heads did include risks – the pilot had to be on a constant lookout for power lines.
After the final landing, the pilot was surrounded by KGB officers. The KGB officers collected all his personal belongings, as well as the camera.
The officers, however, did not apprehend him, they instead summoned him to testify at local KGB headquarters. The KGB officer he was dealing with was not very harsh – there was the lingering sense that he and his peers were more preoccupied with leaving Lithuania before the Soviet Union finally break downs and they are held accountable for their actions, according to Tamošiūnas.
Yet the flower scattering did cost Tamošiūnas his aeroplanes – the Soviets forfeited them and stripped him of his pilot's licence, but, by then, the dawn of Lithuanian — and Baltic — independence was in the offing.