Hundreds of thousands of pro-Europe protesters attended the
rally. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov
Crowds toppled a statue of Soviet state founder Vladimir
Lenin in the Ukrainian capital and attacked it with hammers in
the latest mass protests against President Viktor Yanukovich
and his plans for closer ties with Russia.
The statue's felling - a symbolic rejection of Moscow's power
- came after opposition leaders told hundreds of thousands of
demonstrators to keep up pressure on Yanukovich to sack his
A Reuters reporter at the scene saw the protesters breaking
up the statue with hammers after using ropes and metal bars
to bring it crashing down.
The demonstrators are furious with the Yanukovich government
for its decision to ditch a landmark pact with the European
Union in favour of a trade deal with Moscow, Ukraine's
Yanukovich's sudden tack towards Russia has provoked the
biggest street protests since the 2004-5 Orange Revolution,
when people power forced a re-run of a fraud-tainted election
and thwarted his first run for the presidency.
Sunday's rally marked a further escalation in weeks of
confrontation between the authorities and protesters that
have raised fears for political and economic stability in the
former Soviet republic of 46 million people.
"This is a decisive moment when all Ukrainians have gathered
here because they do not want to live in a country where
corruption rules and where there is no justice," said world
heavyweight boxing champion-turned-politician Vitaly
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso urged
Yanukovich in a phone call on Sunday to seek a dialogue with
his opponents and to respect civil freedoms, the EU executive
said. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton will visit
Kiev this week to help seek a way out of the crisis, it said.
A man with a sledgehammer smashes a statue of Soviet state
founder Vladimir Lenin, which was toppled by protesters.
Interfax news agency said Yanukovich also discussed the
situation in Ukraine with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Ukraine's opposition accuses Yanukovich, who met Russian
President Vladimir Putin on Friday, of preparing to take the
country into a Moscow-led customs union, which they see as an
attempt to recreate the Soviet Union.
"We are on a razor's edge between a final plunge into cruel
dictatorship and a return home to the European community,"
jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko said in an
emotional message to the crowd, read out by her daughter
Yanukovich has said he decided to shelve the EU trade deal
because it would have been too costly for Ukraine's
struggling economy and the country needs more time to prepare
for such a move. He says he is preparing a "strategic
partnership" with Russia, but has not committed to joining
the customs union.
Both countries denied that Putin and Yanukovich discussed the
union when they met on Friday in the Russian Black Sea resort
of Sochi, but further talks are planned for Dec. 17.
Yanukovich and Putin, who regards Ukraine as strategically
vital to Moscow's own interests, are widely believed to have
struck a bargain whereby Ukraine will get cheaper Russian gas
and possibly credits in exchange for backing away from the
Klitschko, who appears to be emerging as a possible
leader-in-waiting, told protesters they would achieve their
aim, though he stressed the need to stay peaceful.
Last weekend, riot police beat protesters and journalists,
triggering EU condemnation and swelling the protesters'
"We do not want to be kept quiet by a policeman's truncheon,"
Klitschko told Sunday's crowd.
He demanded the release of political prisoners, punishment of
those responsible for last weekend's crackdown, the
resignation of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov's government and
early presidential and parliamentary elections.
A group of protesters, chanting "revolution", started
erecting tents and barricades near the government building,
apparently aiming to halt normal government activity next
week. Riot police stood guard nearby.
"We are getting ready for when the police come," said a
22-year-old man draped in a Ukrainian flag who gave his name
as Sergei. "We will stay till our demands are met and there
is a change of government. We don't want to be under Russia's
Around 100 protesters erected four tents and two barricades
at a separate site near the president's offices.
Independence Square, nucleus of the protest movement, has
been transformed into a makeshift village of tents, festooned
with national blue and yellow flags and EU flags, beneath a
big television screen. People huddle around braziers for
In a gesture sure to annoy Yanukovich, protesters hoisted a
huge portrait of Tymoshenko onto a New Year tree, plastered
with anti-government placards, that towers over the square.
The protest camp has been swelled by huge numbers arriving
from Ukrainian-speaking parts of western and central Ukraine,
where the opposition enjoys strong support.
A Tymoshenko ally, former interior minister Yuri Lutsenko,
appealed to people in Russian-speaking areas of the east -
the bedrock of Yanukovich's power - to turn out and join the
protests. "We are the same people as you are, except that
they stole from you earlier," he said.
Sales worker Sviatislav Zaporozhit, 26, said: "The current
authorities have been completely discredited by their actions
and the police brutality. What unites everyone here is a
desire to see a change of government.
"I don't want to go back to what my parents lived under the
Soviet Union ... When I am old, I want to live like people in
Europe. I want to live in a normal country."