Ukrainian nationalists realized their long-desired goal of toppling an 11-foot-high statue of Vladimir Lenin in downtown Kiev during massive protests in the capital on Sunday. Activists from the Svoboda Party and other opposition groups—some wearing black balaclavas—scaled a ladder to loop a rope around Lenin’s head, then heaved on the cable until the monument listed, as if about to dive into the pool of human bodies. Then, with a loud boom, the statue collapsed headfirst, breaking through the ground and shattering into pieces as the crowd cheered and sang the Ukrainian national anthem.
The Svoboda Party has advocated for the demolition of all statues of Lenin across the country for years, and it has attempted similar actions in other regions in the past. A priority of the party’s program is also to “depose from power the agents of the KGB and government officials who held executive positions in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.”
After the statue fell, Kiev protesters continued to destroy the toppled symbol of the Ukrainian-Russian relationship with a sledgehammer. “Revolution! Revolution!” chanted young men in black masks, as they cheered around the collapsed statue that was first installed on Bessarabia Square 67 years ago. Svoboda’s leaders said the demolition was “the happiest moment” in a day of protests that brought tens of thousands to the streets. “There is no Lenin in Kiev! Off with executers!” Alexander Aronets, a press secretary of the Svoboda Party, wrote on Twitter.
Tikhon Dziadko, a host on Russia’s opposition Rain TV, called the toppling of the monument “a significant mark in the Ukrainian opposition’s appraisal,” and compared it to the toppling of the statue of Soviet KGB founder Felix Dzerzhinsky on Lubyanka Square in Moscow in August 1991. Back then, three people died and dozens were injured during the night of Russia’s putsch.
Despite the glee on the streets, liberal leaders of the Ukrainian opposition did not necessarily approve of the nationalists’ actions, either: “The destruction of V.I. Lenin’s monument is barbarian vandalism; it is much easier to cover your face and fight a statue than to come to power and demolish the monument in a legitimate way,” a well-known television host and opposition figure, Mustafa Nayyem, wrote in his Facebook page.
Over the past 20 years, thousands of monuments of Lenin, Stalin, and other Soviet leaders have disappeared from squares in the former Soviet states, often prompting bitter reactions among the millions of remaining members of local communist parties, who often call for the preservation of the monuments as a part of history. “To break sculptures and monuments for political reasons is the same as breaking dishes during a family scandal,” Sergey Bobovnikov, a Russian collector and expert on Soviet art, said of Sunday’s events in Kiev.
Apparently, the communists’ feelings mattered little in the squares of Kiev on Sunday night. The “Eurolution,” as it’s being called by pro-E.U. leaders, has been building in force. Last week, hundreds of protesters were injured in violent clashes with police. This time, activists were better prepared—they wore helmets, respirators, and military-type bags with first aid kits. Earlier this weekend Ukrainian opposition leaders gave President Victor Yanukovych 48 hours to dismiss the country’s government. (He refused.) Besides the government’s resignation, protesters demanded punishment for officials who ordered the beating of civilians last weekend.