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Putin visits Mariupol as part of a surprise tour of occupied Ukraine



President Vladimir Putin paid a surprise visit over the weekend to the war-ravaged port of Mariupol, state media reported, marking the Kremlin leader’s first visit to Russia-occupied territory in Ukraine’s Donbass region since the conflict began.

The visit comes after Putin traveled to Crimea on Saturday for an unannounced visit to mark the ninth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of the peninsula from Ukraine, and just two days after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for the Russian leader.

Putin has yet to comment publicly on the ICC warrant, but his travels to Ukrainian territory claimed by Russia have been seen as a challenge by some observers.

Mariupol fell in May after one of the war’s longest and bloodiest battles, marking Russia’s first major victory after it failed to capture Kiev and focused instead on southeastern Ukraine.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation and Europe (OSCE) said Russia’s early bombing of a maternity hospital there was a war crime.

Russian news agencies quoted the Kremlin as saying that Putin flew by helicopter to Mariupol on a “business trip”.

Travel around the many areas of the city, stopping and talking to the residents.

It is the closest to the front lines that Putin has experienced since the outbreak of the year-long war.

The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant on Friday against Putin, accusing him of the war crime of illegally deporting hundreds of children from Ukraine, a highly symbolic move that further alienates the Russian leader.

While Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has made a number of trips to the battlefield to boost the morale of his troops and talk about his strategy, Putin has largely remained inside the Kremlin as he runs what Russia calls its “own military operation” in Ukraine.

Kiev and its allies say the invasion, now in its 13th month, is an imperialist land grab that has killed thousands and displaced millions in Ukraine.

“nice medium”

Russian media reported that Putin visited a family in their home in the Nevsky district of Mariupol. The new residential neighborhood was built by the Russian military with the first people moving in last September.

Russian agencies quoted Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khosnullin, who accompanied Putin, as saying that residents were returning “actively”.

Mariupol had a population of half a million before the war and was home to the Azovstal Steelworks, one of the largest steelworks in Europe.

“The city center has been hit hard,” Khosnulin said. “We want to finish (reconstructing) the center by the end of the year, at least the fa├žade part. The center is very beautiful,” he added.

Russian media broadcast videos showing the Russian leader driving at night through a built-up area as well as walking in what the media described as an orchestra, which was restored in just three months.

Nor was there an immediate reaction to the visit from Kiev.

Mariupol is located in the Donetsk region, one of four regions that Putin moved to annex in September. Kiev and its Western allies condemned the move as illegal.

Donetsk, along with the Luhansk region, includes most of the industrialized Donbass part of Ukraine which has seen Europe’s biggest battlefield in generations.

On Sunday, Russian media reported that Putin also met with the commander-in-chief of his military operation in Ukraine, including the chief of the general staff, Valery Gerasimov, who is in charge of Moscow’s war in Ukraine.



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