Protesters in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev knocked down a statue of Soviet state founder Vladimir Lenin on Sunday while protesting the government's push for closer ties with Russia.
The crowd attacked the statue with hammers and protesters chanted "Good job" after it toppled in Kiev's Bessarabska Square with only the Soviet hero's legs remaining at the base, CNN reported.
The protesters are appalled that the government has decided to nix a pact with the European Union and instead embrace closer economic ties with Moscow, Ukraine's Soviet-era boss.
Police said they didn't know know who had toppled the statue, but they are investigating. A lawmaker with the nationalist Svoboda party, however, has claimed responsibility for the incident, Ukraine's government news agency noted.
"This is the end of Soviet occupation," the party's Twitter account said. "End of [the] regime of shame and humiliation."
The toppling of the statue took place as 100,000 protesters descended upon the streets of Kiev, according to police estimates, CNN reported. The unrest has put added pressure on Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych after he turned away from integration with Europe.
Despite threats of criminal charges, marchers expanded their hold on the center of the capital, establishing satellite camps outside Kiev’s main square, the Washington Post reported. Protesters burned firewood in barrels to ward off the cold as opposition leaders urged demonstrators to surround government buildings. And the government has announced that the demonstrators have until Monday to vacate City Hall, where they have set up a headquarters and where showdown is likely to take place.
Kiev suspended talks with the EU in November. The current protests are the largest in the eastern European country since the "Orange Revolution," a movement that brought down the government nine years ago.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Yanukovych Sunday, telling the president he had "grave concern" about the protests. The secretary-general urged authorities to avoid violence. But Yanukovych told the U.N. chief "consultations would be initiated to defuse the situation," according to the United Nations.
Numerous statues of Lenin, one of the leaders of the 1917 Russian Revolution, have been removed from Kiev in recent years. The Communist Party decried Sunday's attack on the monument.
"Destroying the Lenin monument in Kiev is not just an act of vandalism," party leader Petro Symonenko said, according to a post on the party's official website. "It is a sign that organizers of the protests are not for the European values, but rather for hate, fear and destruction of the state of Ukraine."
Earlier in the day, tens of thousands of anti-government activists gathered in Kiev for a rally called the "1 Million March." Various protesters there displayed photos of Yanukovych's jailed chief political opponent, Yulia Tymoshenko. In statements on her official website, Tymoshenko called upon supporters to remain defiant with their demands.
"I believe that you are strong, inspired and not retreat," wrote the former prime minister, who ended a 12-day hunger strike last week, according to the Batkivschyna opposition party.
"Be prepared for the fact that the struggle will be long and difficult, instant victory impossible. But professional and well-planned, your joint struggle has a chance to finish the victory."