“You’re next, Yanukovych” far-right protesters in Kyiv’s Independence Square chanted, as they toppled, then hacked at, a statue of Soviet state founder Vladimir Lenin.
The gesture is seen as a symbolic challenge to President Yanukovych and his plans for a stronger alliance with Russia, but also widely regarded as a rejection of Moscow’s historic influence on Ukraine.
Provoked by the government’s decision to shelve an EU trade deal in favour of talks with Russia, the pro-EU street rallies are the biggest since the 2004-5 Orange Revolution.
Euronews correspondent, Angelina Kariakina, was at Maidan Square.
“The protest’s borders have now been extended to the governmental buildings,” she said. “Protesters have blocked the streets with vehicles, and tents and barricades are set up just in front of the parliament.”
A week ago, activists and journalists were attacked by riot police, drawing EU condemnation and inciting President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, to urge Yanukovych to “respect civil freedoms.”
Catherine Ashton, EU foreign policy chief, is expected to visit Kyiv to help to find a way out of the crisis.
Meanwhile, several thousand government supporters gathered in Mariyinski Park near to the Ukrainian parliament.
Guarded by police officers and riot police, demonstrators reportedly need special ID to enter the area.
The rally is thought to be an attempt to counter the huge pro-Europe demonstration in Independence Square.
Soviet anthems could be heard throughout the day; a reminder that the president’s strongest support comes from the widely pro-Russia south and east of Ukraine.
Euronews’ Evgeniya Rudenko explained the choice of location for the demonstration:
“Government supporters gathered close to the Verkhovna Rada (parliament), surrounded by police and Berkut riot police. Analysts say the chosen location is symbolic as a reminder that the pro-government Party of Regions has a legislative majority.”