A concrete obelisk with Soviet stars at the top that was the centerpiece of a monument commemorating the Red Army’s victory over Nazi Germany was taken down Thursday in Latvia's capital.
Heavy machinery was spotted behind a green privacy screen fence at the foot of the nearly 80-meter (260-foot) obelisk shortly before its removal. The column, which had stood like a high-rise in the landscape of downtown Riga, crashed into a nearby pond at Victory Park.
A leading Latvian media outlet broadcast the event live, showing onlookers cheering and applauding as the obelisk fell. It wasn’t immediately clear what would happen to it.
The obelisk, which comprised five spires with three Soviet stars at the top, stood between two groups of statues — a band of three Red Army soldiers and on the other side a woman representing the “Motherland” with her arms held high.
The monument was built in 1985 while Latvia was still part of the Soviet Union. It had stirred controversy since Latvia regained independence in 1991 and eventually became a NATO and European Union member.
The country shares a 214-kilometer (133-mile) border with Russia and has a large ethnic Russian population. On Russia’s annual Victory Day, which commemorates the Soviet victory over Germany in World War II, people gathered in front of the Riga monument to lay flowers.
Russia's invasion of Ukraine in late February has prompted authorities in several eastern European countries to hasten the removal of symbols from their communist eras.
Latvia’s parliament voted to approve the demolition of the Victory Park monument in May, and the Riga City Council followed suit.
Work to clear away the monument started three days ago with the removal of statues. The area was then cordoned off and authorities issued a flight ban for drones over it. Police temporarily closed traffic near the park on Thursday, citing security reasons.