New East Digital Archive

Lithuanian photographer Andrej Vasilenko discusses his series This is Vilnius and the changing face of the post-Soviet city

5 May 2015
Text and image: Andrej Vasilenko

Lithuanian photographer Andrej Vasilenko began his project This is Vilnius in 2014 in an attempt to detail the particular character of contemporary Vilnius and how it reflects the Lithuanian quest for a new national identity.

I had the idea for This is Vilnius in 2014 when I came back to Lithuania after living in London for five years. It was in London that I first started to document city space and on my return to Vilnius I saw my native city in a new light.

My aim was to search for Vilnius’s identity.

I documented any architectural changes to the city, with all their advantages and drawbacks, applying a cinematic perspective to different urban spaces.

Contemporary independent Vilnius is only 25 years old.

My hope is that the series acts as a mirror for the city and helps uncover its identity.

We live in a time that is particularly crucial for the formation of Vilnius and the whole of Lithuania.

I think the urban landscape of Vilnius is no less interesting than that of better-documented, larger cities.

Hardly anyone at the moment is trying to capture this city the way it is.

What makes Vilnius’ cityscape unique is its history — a lot of has happened here over the decades and much of that is revealed in the city’s architecture.

As a photographer I am very interested in architectural combinations and there are plenty here, both good and bad.

Mostly, it’s an eclectic combination of new and Soviet architecture from the beginning of the 20th century.

Contemporary Vilnius is changing fast and I sometimes capture architectural styles and buildings which need to be preserved.

The Soviet-era Žalgiris Stadium in the centre of Vilnius is scheduled for renovation but the rumour is it’s going to be demolished.

In fact a lot of buildings in the old town are disappearing. After being “renovated” they look like entirely new structures.

There is a variety of Soviet architecture in the city, remarkable buildings like the Palace of Sports.

But then there are also the dormitory suburbs which are not as interesting.

The Soviet era and its architecture have left indelible traces in the city and these resonate with its residents.

As the recent changes illustrate, we keep moving forward and creating our own history.

There is something to keep and something to abandon — this is the pattern we live by in the present.

In the beginning of the Noughties, most of the new buildings were very featureless, very safe — I think this reflects the uncertain national identity of that period.

But after around five years of independence, interesting projects started to emerge — the Swedbank office building for example, or the Rupert arts and education centre.

You can feel the city grow.

People in Vilnius seem to like my project. Now when they notice things changing in the city environment they say, “This is Vilnius.” It’s a sign the project is working.

Read more

This is Vilnius: capturing the changing face of a city in real time

Post-Soviet city: a special report on the photography of the former eastern bloc

This is Vilnius: capturing the changing face of a city in real time

Concretopia: searching for the secret meaning of the suburbs in eastern Europe

This is Vilnius: capturing the changing face of a city in real time

My Belgrade: Looking for the traces of a vanished country