KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the occupied port city of Mariupolhis first trip to Ukrainian territory that Moscow illegally annexed in September and a show of defiance after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant against him on war crimes charges.
Putin arrived in Mariupol on Saturday night after Visiting Crimea, southwest of Mariupol, to mark the ninth anniversary of Ukraine’s annexation of the Black Sea peninsula, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Sunday. He was shown chatting with Mariupol residents and visiting an art school and children’s center in Sevastopol, Crimea.
Mariupol became a global symbol of resistance after outgunned and outnumbered Ukrainian forces held out in a steel factory there for nearly three months before Moscow finally seized control in May. Much of the city was reduced to rubble by Russian bombing.
Putin has not commented on the arrest warrant, which deepened his international isolation despite the improbability of his facing trial any time soon. The Kremlin, which does not recognize the authority of the ICC, has rejected its measure as “legally null and void.”
The surprise trip also came before a Planned visit to Moscow by Chinese President Xi Jinping this week, which is expected to provide a major diplomatic boost to Putin in his confrontation with the West.
Putin arrived in Mariupol by helicopter and then drove around the city’s “memorial sites”, the concert hall and the waterfront, according to Russian news reports. The state-run Rossiya 24 channel on Sunday showed Putin chatting with locals outside what appeared to be a newly built residential complex, showing one of the apartments.
After his trip to Mariupol, Putin met with Russian military leaders and troops at a command post in Rostov-on-Don, a southern Russian city about 180 kilometers (about 112 miles) further east, and consulted with General Valery Gerasimov, who is in charge of Russian military operations in Ukraine. Peskov said.
Peskov said the trip had not been announced and that Putin intended to “inspect the work of the (command) post in its ordinary mode of operation.”
Speaking to the state agency RIA-Novosti, Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin made it clear that Russia was in Mariupol to stay. He said the government expected to finish rebuilding its dilapidated center by the end of the year.
“People have started to come back. When they saw that the reconstruction was underway, people began to return actively,” Khusnullin told RIA.
Mykhailo Podolyak, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s chief of staff, mocked Putin’s trip to Mariupol.
“The criminal is always attracted to the crime scene,” he said. “While the countries of the civilized world announce the arrest of the ‘war director’ in case of crossing the border, the organizer of the murders of thousands of families in Mariupol came to admire the ruins of the city and the mass graves.”
When Moscow fully captured the city in May, approximately 100,000 people remained, out of a pre-war population of 450,000. Many were trapped without food, water, heat or electricity. The relentless shelling left rows of buildings smashed or emptied.
The plight of Mariupol first attracted international attention with a Russian airstrike on a maternity hospital on March 9, 2022, less than two weeks after the invasion of Ukraine began. A week later, some 300 people were reported killed in the bombing of a theater that was being used as the largest bomb shelter in the city. Evidence obtained by The Associated Press suggested that the actual death toll could be closer to 600.
A small group of Ukrainian fighters. retained for 83 days at the sprawling Azovstal steel plant east of Mariupol before surrendering, their stubborn defense tied down Russian forces and came to symbolize Ukrainian tenacity in the face of Moscow aggression.
Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, a move that most of the world denounced as illegal, and in September moved to officially claim four regions in southern and eastern Ukraine as Russian territory, following referendums that Kiev and the West described as like a farce
The ICC charged Putin on Friday with personal responsibility for the abductions of children from Ukraine. UN investigators also said there was evidence of the forced transfer of “hundreds” of Ukrainian children to Russia. According to Ukrainian government figures, more than 16,000 children have been deported to territories controlled by Russia or to Russia itself, many of them from Mariupol.
While kyiv welcomed the ICC move, the chances of Putin facing trial are slim because Moscow does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction or extradite its citizens.
Ukrainian officials reported Sunday that at least three civilians have been killed and 19 wounded by Russian shelling in the past 24 hours. The deaths occurred in the eastern Donetsk region amid fierce battles for control of the city of Bakhmut, according to the governor. Pavlo Kyrylenko on Ukrainian television.
Kharkiv regional government. Oleh Syniehubov said in a Telegram update that a 51-year-old woman was “fighting for her life” after being hit by shrapnel when Russian troops fired on the border town of Dvorichna.
Ukraine’s top presidential aide Andriy Yermak said Ukrainian troops were holding the line near Bakhmut, a key target of a long and exhausting Russian offensive, adding that the enemy’s plan to occupy the city “is now being consolidated.” .
The spokesman for the eastern Ukrainian forces said Russian troops are “tactically unable to complete” the capture of Bakhmut.
“Yes, there are very active battles, (the Russians) continue to make several dozen attacks by inertia, but they suffer huge losses,” Serhii Cherevaty said on Ukrainian television, adding that the Ukrainian defenses are “bleeding the enemy dry, breaking their fight “. spiritual.”
Seizing Bakhmut would give the Kremlin a battlefield victory after months of setbacks, and could pave the way for Russia to threaten other Ukrainian strongholds in the region, including Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.
Russian forces shelled a house in Bilozerka, a western suburb of the southern city of Kherson, and a woman who was rescued from the rubble was hospitalized, the Kherson regional military administration wrote on Telegram.
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