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On September 19 at 6 pm, the commemorative service “Don’t Want to Leave, But Cannot Stay – The 1944 Great Exodus from Estonia” will take place at Jaani (St. John’s) Church in Tallinn at the request of the Estonian World Council (ÜEKN). 


The Archbishop of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church, Urmas Viilma, and the President of the Estonian Council of Churches, Archbishop Emeritus Andres Põder will lead the service accompanied by musicians Pille Lill (soprano), Neeme Ots (trumpet) and Tiia Tenno (organ).


Next year will mark the passing of 75 years since the tragic period, when tens of thousands of people were forced to flee their home country in fear of their lives. During the journey from their homeland abroad, an unknown number of people perished on land and at the sea. Until now, this event has not been commemorated in Estonia as an official day of observance. 


At this spring’s plenary session of the Estonian World Council (ÜEKN), the council accepted the resolution to apply for adding the 19th of September to Estonia’s national calendar as a day dedicated to commemorating the great exodus. To the suffering experienced by the fleeing people, but also to acknowledge the remarkable contribution by Estonian refugees in maintaining the legal continuity of the Estonian state and in achieving reindependence, the ÜEKN appealed to the Riigikogu (Parliament of Estonia), as well as to the Archbishop of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church, to organize a commemorative service at Tallinn’s St. John’s (Jaani) Church within the framework of this year’s Estonia 100 events. 


Estonians abroad will commemorate the great fleeing from Estonia in 1944 between September 15 to 23. The ÜEKN hopes that this memorial day will become an annual tradition in Estonia, as well as everywhere else around the globe where Estonians live. Many of them had to make a life-altering decision in mere minutes back in 1944 – not wanting to leave, but unable to stay…


This year, services commemorating the great exodus during WWII will take place (as of August 31): in Canada at Toronto’s St. Peter’s congregation, Toronto’s Old St. Andrew’s congregation, the 

Toronto Estonian Baptist congregation, at Toronto’s Ehatare nursing home and Vancouver’s St. Peter’s congregation. 


In the United States at Lakewood, NJ’s Holy Spirit congregation, the New York Estonian Ev. Lutheran congregation, New York’s St. Paul’s and Bogota congregations and EELK Northville Lutheran church (Seabrook, NJ).


Services will also be held at the St Peter’s Church in Canberra, Australia, St. Petersburg’s St. John’s Church in Russia, Riga’s St. John’s Church in Latvia, Prague’s St. John’s Chapel in the Czech Republic.


The memorial day will be marked at the Estonian embassy in Kyiv along with the Ukrainian Estonian Association and at the Museum of Occupations and Freedom in Tallinn, in collaboration with the Association of Estonian Cultural Societies.


The prayer for the refugees of 1944 will be held at the St. Simeon's and St. Anne's Orthodox Church of Estonia on September 23, and also the other Estonian Orthodox churches will have prayers around September 19 to commemorate the Great Estonian Exodus of 1944. 


Aavo Reinfeldt,

chairman of the ÜEKN/EWC,

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Iivi Zajedova,

member of the ÜENK/EWC Board,


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