Ukmergė, with a population of 28,000, is one of the oldest Lithuanian settlements being mentioned in historical sources from 1225.


Ukmergė in present times.
The town has changed enormously since the fall of the Soviet Union, when Lithuania was the first state to regain its independence.
Lithuania, now a fully-fledged member of the international community, a member of the UN and NATO, and joined the EU in 2004 since then the country has enjoyed considerable prosperity.
Within this security Ukmergė has been able to develop after a long history of foreign occupation and interference. This prosperity still relies on the city’s traditional economic heritage with many of its citizens engaged in the timber industry, including the manufacture of wooden furniture and wood by-products such as fibre board. There is also a metal-working industry and clothing factories. Its modern technical school has well-regarded faculties in wooden and metal engineering.

All Lithuanians fought for independence from the Russian (Communist) state between 1918 and 1919, and Ukmergė marked this new beginning by taking its modern name, relinquishing the river name of Vilkmerge and by which it had formerly been known.
The city also built a monument to their liberation the ‘Lituania Restitua’ to have it torn down by the Russians in 1950. It was rebuilt in 1990 – even before Lithuania became independent again in 1991. Today Lithuania celebrates two national Independence Days: 16 February marks the day in 1918 when they declared independence as Russia left the First World War and 11 March marks the day in 1991 when the present state of Lithuania was established.

While Lithuanian, a particularly ancient form of our common Indo-European speech, is spoken with pride, Russian is still the most widely spoken second language, a direct legacy of their domination in recent history. Another legacy for Ukmergė is the presence nearby of two abandoned nuclear missile sites built by the Soviet Union, now in ruins through which the public can wander at will.

Ukmergė is one of Lithuania’s most ancient settlements having grown from an early hill fort, the remains of which can still be visited within the city. The first documentary mention of this settlement was in 1225, it was recognised as a town in 1435 and by 1486 was a city.
The Grand Duchy of Lithuania was one of the largest ‘countries’ in early medieval Europe, but her geographical position across the north European plain made her vulnerable to foreign pressures. Thus much of the early fortunes of Ukmergė as of Lithuania, were linked initially with that of its large neighbour, Poland, while its later history has been dominated by another large and powerful neighbour, Russia.

Poland and Lithuania were effectively united as a dual state – eventually referred to as the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth – by the 1386 marriage of the Polish queen to the Grand Duke Jogaila of Lithuania. This unification, relatively speaking a union of equals, continued until the Russian, Prussian and Austrian landgrabs of 1772 to 1795, in which Lithuania became part of Russia and the two states of Poland and Lithuania ceased to exist until their re-emergence in 1918/9. Lithuania then enjoyed a brief period of independence until 1940 when it was once again occupied firstly by Russia and the following year by Germany. At the end of the Second World War it fell under the control of Russia as the Iron Curtain went up across Europe, finally gaining its freedom again in 1991 with the fall of the Soviet Union.

Within these turbulent events, the growth of Ukmergė from its early beginnings was slow.
The Polish-Lithuanian state was increasingly chaotic (leading to the ease with which its neighbours annihilated it in the 18th century). This was mainly due to the strength of the nobility who elected the monarch, leaving him at their mercy and preventing many of the economic and social reforms which would have led to the development of an urban-dwelling middle class and the growth of towns and cities such as Ukmergė. Ukmergė was predominately wood and was totally destroyed by two catastrophic fires, one in 1391 as a result of enemy action and one in 1877, and it was also heavily bombed by allied action during the Second World War. It was plundered by marauding Swedes and Russians during the 17th century and by Napoleon during both his invasion of and retreat from Russia in 1812. Deltuva, which is approximately 5miles from Ukmergė is the site of an 1812 battle between the French and the Russians. Each year at Deltuva, there is a re-enactment of this battle staged by local enthusiasts.
The population was decimated by a particularly bad outbreak of the plague in 1711 while about 10,000 Ukmergė Jews were killed during the German occupation of the 1940s.
However, despite its small size, Ukmergė continued during this insecure history to play its part in the development of the Lithuanian state and identity. In 1899 thirteen citizens of Ukmergė were punished for publishing in Lithuanian – the Russian state had made use of the language illegal. The city took part in the ‘November uprising’ against the Russians in 1830, remaining in rebel hands for several months, and in 1863 Ukmergė initiated a further unsuccessful rebellion
Lithuania, and Ukmergė along with it, has spent much of its history dominated by foreign powers. It was united with Poland in 1386, a unification which continued until the land was seized by Russia in the late 18th century. Nearly two centuries under Russian rule was seen as an occupation rather than a unification as the Polish rule had been, and Ukmergė played its part in resisting this occupation.

In 1918 with Russia in the midst of the Bolshevik revolution, civil war and military defeat in the First World War, Lithuania was able to assert her independence and enjoy a brief period of freedom until 1940 when it was once again occupied firstly by Russia and the following year by Germany. In 1945 it fell under Russian control as the Iron Curtain went up across Europe, finally gaining its freedom again in 1991 with the fall of the Soviet Union.