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Statues smashed as Ukraine moves to shed Soviet past

A statue of Lenin in Slavyansk, eastern Ukraine. Symbols of Ukraine's Soviet past have become collateral victims of the struggle over the country's future.
A statue of Lenin in Slavyansk, eastern Ukraine. Symbols of Ukraine's Soviet past have become collateral victims of the struggle over the country's future. Sergei Supinsky, AFP

Activists toppled three statues of Communist leaders overnight Friday in Ukraine's second-largest city, Kharkiv, days after parliament passed a controversial bill designed to purge the country of Soviet-era symbols.

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A video posted on YouTube by an anti-Russian militant group called "We've had enough" shows the masked men smashing three large monuments glorifying Bolshevik leaders in Ukraine's second largest city.

The men can be seen using a ladder to hook the statues with a cable tied to a white van that pulls away, bringing the statues down. In one instance, police officers look on without attempting to intervene.

Previous attempts to remove Soviet-era symbols have stoked tension in the mostly-Russian speaking city of 1.4 million, located some 200 kilometres from the conflict zone in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, where pro-Russian insurgents are fighting the Kiev government in a conflict that has killed more than 6,000 people.

In February 2014, as protesters tore down dozens of statues of Lenin across Ukraine, scores of Kharkiv citizens formed a protective cordon around a statue of the former Soviet leader. It was eventually pulled down in September, in a move supported by local officials.

‘Totalitarian methods’

The latest incident comes less than 48 hours after Ukrainian lawmakers adopted controversial legislation designed to shed Ukraine's Soviet past.

The bills – which were adopted by a large majority but still need to be signed by President Petro Poroshenko – have heightened tensions in the war-divided country, and Friday prompted an angry reaction from Russia.

"Kiev used truly totalitarian methods of liquidating unwanted parties, civic organisations and movements," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement, also accusing Ukraine of "rewriting history".

The legislation bans Communist-era and Nazi symbols in what supporters said was a bid to break with the country's tragic World War II past and Moscow's domination through most of the 20th century.

It is likely to further alienate pro-Russian insurgents in Ukraine’s east, who have made a point of their attachment to the Soviet era.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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