An anti-government protester hits a statue of Vladimir Lenin with a sledgehammer in Kiev on Sunday.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been taking to the streets of the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, where Sunday they pulled down a statue of Vladimir Lenin to seek the resignation of the government for refusing a deal that would integrate the country more closely with the European Union.
Hundreds of demonstrators gathered round the statue’s plinth, planting Ukrainian and European flags where the statue stood and taunted the president: “Yanukovich, you’re next.” Some people took hammers to the toppled statue of the Bolshevik leader.
Not everyone approved of the sudden moment of drama, perhaps the most symbolic yet in two weeks of anti-government protest. “They should have got rid of Lenin ages ago, but I’m not sure this is the right way to do it,” said Oksana Petrenko. “I’ve been at the protest for days but we have to avoid it turning violent.”
Earlier, the opposition threatened to march on Yanukovych’s presidential palace and seal him inside if, in the next 48 hours, he did not sack his prime minister.
Hundreds of thousands crammed into Independence Square and nearby streets on Sunday, chanting “Ukraine is Europe!”. They called on Yanukovych to resign in the biggest protest yet of a two-week movement to force the president to reverse a decision to halt European integration.
There has been no violence at the demonstrations that started a week ago, when protesters attempted to storm the presidential administration and riot police responded forcefully. The government has mostly left the protesters alone but resisted granting concessions.
On Friday, Kiev police said that if two occupied buildings, including the main City Hall, were not emptied within five days, officers would clear them with force.
The Guardian continued:
Russia and the west have traded allegations over which side is putting pressure on Ukraine. On Saturday, former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili told the crowd on Independence Square that Putin had performed a “raider attack on a whole sovereign country”, attempting to steal Ukraine’s fate from its own people.
Alexei Pushkov, the head of the Russian parliament’s foreign affairs committee, struck back: “Saakashvili is kind of right. There is an attempted raid on Ukraine, not from Moscow but Brussels, grabbing it by the neck and dragging it to paradise,” he tweeted. “The word ‘paradise’ should be in inverted commas, of course. For Bulgaria, Greece and even for Serbia which is just an EU candidate country, the promised ‘paradise’ turned to hopeless gloom.”
Yanukovych has insisted he still wants integration with Europe, but could not sign the EU deal as it would have caused further damage to Ukraine’s suffering economy.