Ukrainian opposition protesters pulled down a statue of Lenin in central Kiev as hundreds of thousands took to the streets in the latest display of anger at President Viktor Yanukovich’s rejection of closer ties with Europe.
Protesters used ropes to topple the monument, and several then scrambled onto the podium to plant Ukrainian and European flags. Hundreds gathered around to sing the national anthem and chanting “Yanukovich, you’re next”.
A huge crowd formed, desperate to catch a glimpse of the fallen Bolshevik leader, while passing cars beeped their horns in support. Some took hammers to the fallen statue in an attempt to smash it to pieces and claim souvenirs.
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.
The protesters carried the yellow-and-blue flags of both Ukraine and the European Union. Although some also waved flags of political parties, the majority of those on the streets were not supporters of particular parties.
One man wielded an effigy of the severed head of the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi above a sign reading: “Vitya [Yanukovych], the game is over!”
“We do not want to be kept quiet by a policeman’s truncheon,” heavyweight boxer and opposition leader Vitali Klitschko told the crowd.
Since last Sunday, when protesters attempted to storm the presidential administration and riot police responded ruthlessly, there has been no violence. The government has so far taken a hands-off approach to the protests but resisted concessions. The prime minister, Mykola Azarov, survived a no-confidence vote in parliament on Tuesday and branded those on the square “Nazis and criminals”, but after previous attempts to clear the square with force increased the protest mood, police withdrew from the city centre.
However, on Friday, Kiev police said that if two occupied buildings in the centre, including the main City Hall, were not vacated within five days, they would be cleared with force.
On Sunday, Eduard Leonov, an MP from the nationalist Svoboda party, was sitting at a desk marked “Committee for the self-government of Kiev” inside City Hall, and described himself as the commander of the building. He insisted that protesters would not acquiesce to the police demands. “First, it’s an illegal order, as MPs have the right to hold meetings wherever they want,” he said. “Second, it’s an immoral order, as this is a humanitarian mission providing food and warmth to the protesters.”
Hundreds of mattresses have been laid out on the floor in the City Hall’s main colonnaded room, and different stalls hand out food, medicines and donated warm clothes to those who want them.
“It the government decides to storm the building, then of course we will resist,” said Leonov.
Yanukovych has kept a low profile since the protests started, even flying to China for a three-day trip last week as the centre of Kiev remained under siege. He returned to Ukraine on Friday, stopping over in Russia to meet with Vladimir Putin, with rumours circling in Kiev that the pair had agreed for Ukraine to join the Russian-led Customs Union. The rumour sparked fury in Kiev but was denied by spokespeople for both presidents.
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.
Ukranian President Viktor Yanukovych has reportedly fled Kiev for Kharkiv amid “[the loss] of most of his power base following the bloodiest day in a 72-hour period in Ukraine.”
According to InterpreterMag.com, he announced “early elections” prior to fleeing, although he did not “[specify] when they might be held.”
Tweets coming out of Ukraine on February 21 described the protests that led up to to Yanukovych’s departure as “the biggest demo in modern history.”
While in Kharkiv, Yanukovych is expected to “take part in a Congress of the ‘Ukranian Front.'” The Congress is expected to reflect the chaos in the Ukraine, which will contribute to the idea that “it is politically necessary for the southeast to become a separate entity.”
There are “17 buses carrying activists from Right Sector toward Kharkiv,” and Yanukovych is expected to “make [a] statement about [a] split of Ukraine.”
The Obama Administration’s lack of leadership on international crises has become so apparent that even The Washington Post is launching broadsides at the White House. In a tweet highlighting a major piece on Ukraine and Syria, the Post declared: “The ‘Obama Doctrine’ flounders as Kiev and Syria crumble.”
This is, of course, what conservatives have been pointing out for years: In a 2010 paper on the pitfalls and perils of the Obama Doctrine, my Heritage colleagues Kim Holmes and James Carafano argued that the Obama stance on foreign policy was making the United States and the world “less secure, courting global instability… The Obama Doctrine is anchored in the belief that America is devoid of singularity, exceptionalism, or historic mission rather than a country with unique resources, experiences and devotion to freedom.”
This flawed approach, with a fundamental rejection of the notion of American exceptionalism, is amply on display over the Ukrainian crisis. The Russian reset has spectacularly backfired, resulting in staggering complacency in Washington over Ukraine and Moscow’s ambitions.
As early as October of last year, Heritage fellow Ariel Cohen warned the Obama Administration that failure to act would hand the initiative to the Russians: “It is in the national interest of the United States to prevent Ukraine from becoming a Russian satellite and a key member of a Moscow-dominated sphere of influence. The U.S. needs to assist Ukraine and its European partners in derailing Russia’s pressure tactics for bringing Ukraine into Moscow’s orbit.”
The leader of the free world has been largely invisible as Ukrainian demonstrators are ruthlessly picked off by government snipers and left for dead, while Russian President Vladimir Putin vows that Ukraine will remain in Russia’s orbit.
As I noted in an earlier piece assessing President Obama’s disastrous record on the world stage, the Obama Doctrine has been a monumental failure because it fails to protect and advance U.S. interests. It is the antithesis of Ronald Reagan’s bold approach, which was based on powerful American leadership on the world stage, including a willingness to firmly stand up to America’s adversaries.
The U.S. simply cannot afford to be a bystander in the face of tyranny. Although Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych has signed a pact with opposition leaders in Kiev, this will do little to ease the fears and concerns of hundreds of thousands of protestors. This should be a moment for real leadership from the U.S. President, who should stand with those fighting for freedom. The White House should place itself on the right side of history at a pivotal moment in the 21st century.