Authorities in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv took down a statue of a Red Army commander from a central boulevard Saturday as part of a campaign to remove Soviet-era monuments from Ukraine.
Municipal workers tore down the statue of Mykola Shchors, a Soviet field commander during the Russian Civil War, erected in the 1950s. A small group of onlookers applauded as a crane lifted the statue of Shchors on horseback and placed it onto a flatbed truck.
"Derussification and decommunization are continuing. We have already dismantled more than 60 monuments related to the history and culture of Russia and the Soviet Union," Mykhailo Budilov, director of the city's Department of Territorial Control, said in a statement, according to The Associated Press.
City officials said the statue would be stored in a museum.
Authorities in Ukraine's Black Sea port of Odesa dismantled a prominent statue of Catherine the Great last year after a monthslong campaign by activists.
Putin seeks reelection in 2024
Ukraine Saturday decried Russian plans to hold presidential elections next spring on occupied territories such as Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions in the east and south of the country, declaring them "null and void" and vowing to prosecute any election monitors there.
In Russia, activists reacted, saying they will put up a fight against President Vladimir Putin as he seeks reelection in March.
Many of the opposition leaders are either in prison at home or live in exile, they say they hope to undermine the widespread public support the Russian president enjoys and turn popular opinion against his devastating war in Ukraine. Imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny said in a statement relayed by his team that "no one but us will step into this battle for the hearts and the minds of our fellow citizens."
Putin on Friday announced his candidacy in the presidential election in March, after a Kremlin award ceremony during which war veterans and others pleaded with him to seek reelection in what Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called "spontaneous" remarks.
For Putin, 71, the election is a formality: with the support of the state, the state-run media and almost no mainstream public dissent, he is certain to win. He has no discernable successor. He has served as president since 2000, longer than any other ruler of Russia since Josef Stalin.
About 80% of Russians approve of Putin's performance, according to the independent pollster Levada Center. But it is not clear if that support is genuine or the result of Putin's oppressive regime, which cracks down on any opposition.
EU aid debate
Essential components in Ukraine's defensive war against Russia are stuck at the Polish border as Polish truckers are continuing their blockade on the border with Ukraine complaining that they cannot compete with Ukrainians' lower prices of goods and urging the EU to reinstate the limits on the number of Ukrainian trucks that can enter the bloc.
About 200 pickup trucks needed to transport ammunition and evacuate the wounded from the front line are also blocked at the border because "deliveries have practically stopped," said Ivan Poberzhniak, head of procurement and logistics for Come Back Alive, Ukraine's largest charitable organization providing the military with equipment.
Part of the mileslong blockade include 3,000 tourniquets bound for the battlefront as well as parts for drones.
Despite Poland and other nearby countries being some of Ukraine's biggest supporters in the war, resentment has built from truckers and farmers, who are losing business to lower-cost Ukrainian goods and services flowing into the world's biggest trading bloc. The existing tension underscores the challenges of Ukraine's integration into the EU if approved.
Ukraine is also facing hurdles from Hungary, another EU member. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has threatened to block the EU's $53 billion budget proposal to assist Kyiv through 2027.
A senior EU official who spoke to Reuters on the condition of anonymity said if Hungary does veto the aid package, the EU could allocate a smaller amount of money to Ukraine for a shorter time, or the other 26 EU countries could extend their national contributions bilaterally to Kyiv.
"We know how existential it is. European leaders are responsible people — at least 26," said the official, who is involved in an EU summit scheduled for next week.
Ukraine depends on economic aid from the West to keep its war against Russia going.
Hungary is also planning on blocking EU membership talks for Ukraine at next week's summit.
The EU is due to consider a legal proposal Tuesday allowing the use of sanctioned Russian frozen assets to help Ukraine. However, EU officials say Ukraine might not see the money anytime soon because EU members are bickering over the amounts pledged for Ukraine.
The EU executive says $30 billion worth of private Russian assets and a further $223 billion of the Russian central bank's funds have been confiscated.
Some $135 billion of the latter sum is held by Belgian company Euroclear. Belgium estimated it would collect $2.5 billion in taxes on that in 2023 and 2024. It said it would use those proceeds for Ukraine.
Some information for this story came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.