Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the occupied Ukrainian city of Mariupol over the weekend, inspecting reconstruction work and visiting the home of at least one local resident, the Kremlin said in a statement on Sunday.
Putin arrived Saturday evening in the port city under Russian control since May and illegally annexed by Moscow in September.
“As befits a thief, Putin traveled to Ukrainian Mariupol, under cover of night,” the Ukrainian Defense Ministry tweeted. “First, it’s safer. Also, the darkness allows him to showcase what he wants to show, and keeps the city completely destroyed by his army and his few surviving inhabitants out of sight. prying.”
Putin arrived by helicopter and then drove through the city to inspect reconstruction work in several neighborhoods, the statement said. It was Putin’s second trip to the newly annexed territories, this time after visiting Crimea on Saturday to mark the ninth anniversary of Russia’s illegal takeover of the Black Sea peninsula.
The news comes less than two days after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants for Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, an official in its office responsible for children’s rights. The court cited their alleged involvement in the illegal deportation of children from occupied areas of Ukraine to Russia.
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Mariupol remains the symbol of Ukrainian resistance
Mariupol, on the Sea of Azov in the bitterly disputed region of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, was left in ruins by relentless Russian bombardment in the first weeks of the war. A Russian airstrike slammed into a maternity ward less than two weeks after Russian troops overran its neighbor, and a week later around 300 people were reportedly killed in the bombardment of a theater serving as the city’s largest bomb shelter. the city. Evidence suggests the actual death toll could have been closer to 600.
The fierce battle for the city finally came to an end when a small group of Ukrainian fighters surrendered after resisting for 83 days in the sprawling Azovstal steelworks in eastern Mariupol. Their determination symbolizes Ukrainian tenacity in the face of aggression from Moscow.
The city, once home to more than 430,000 people, has been under direct Russian control since May.
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Russian official: Mariupol annexation is permanent
Speaking to state news agency RIA on Sunday, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnulin made it clear that Russia is in Mariupol to stay. He said the government hoped to complete the reconstruction of its devastated city center by the end of the year.
“People started coming back. When they saw that the reconstruction was underway, people started to actively come back,” Khusnulin told RIA.
Contribute: The Associated Press