Home / News / World /  Putin pays surprise visit to occupied Ukraine's Mariupol

Over the weekend, President Vladimir Putin visited Mariupol, a port city heavily impacted by war, marking his initial trip to the Russian-occupied Donbas area of Ukraine since the start of the conflict.

This visit followed Putin's unannounced trip to Crimea on Saturday, commemorating the ninth anniversary of the annexation of the region from Ukraine. It occurred only two days after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Putin.

Nevertheless, his recent visits to areas of Ukraine that Russia occupies are seen by some as an act of defiance. Mariupol was captured by Russia after one of the longest and most violent battles of the war.

This victory was significant since Russia failed to take Kyiv and instead focused on southeastern Ukraine.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has accused Russia of committing a war crime by bombing a maternity hospital in Mariupol during the conflict's early stages.

According to Russian news agencies citing the Kremlin, Putin made a "working trip" to Mariupol, arriving by helicopter. 

During his visit, Putin made several stops and interacted with residents while touring various city districts. This marks the closest proximity to the conflict's front lines that Putin has been since the one-year-long war began. Meanwhile, on Friday, the ICC issued an arrest warrant against Putin, alleging that he illegally deported numerous children from Ukraine, thereby committing a war crime. The significance of this move is not lost, as it further isolates the Russian leader.

While Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has made several trips to the battlefield to boost troop morale and discuss strategy, Putin has largely remained in the Kremlin while running what Russia refers to as its "special military operation" in Ukraine. The invasion, now in its thirteenth month, is considered by Kyiv and its allies to be an imperialistic land grab responsible for the deaths of thousands and displacement of millions of Ukrainians.

In the Nevsky district of Mariupol, Putin visited a family in their home, Russian media reported. The new residential neighbourhood has been built by Russian military with first people moving in last September.

Residents have been "actively" returning, Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin, who accompanied Putin, was cited as saying by Russian agencies.

Mariupol had a population of half a million people before the war and was home to the Azovstal steel plant, one of Europe's largest.

"The downtown has been badly damaged," Khusnullin said. "We want to finish (reconstruction) of the centre by the end of the year, at least the facade part. The centre is very beautiful."

Russian media broadcast videos showing the Russian leader driving a car at night through a built-up area as well as walking into what media said was the philharmonic, restored in just three months.

There was also no immediate reaction to the visit from Kyiv.

Mariupol is in the Donetsk region, one of the four regions Putin moved in September to annex. Kyiv and its Western allies condemned the move as illegal. Donetsk, together with the Luhansk region, comprise most of the Donbas industrialised part of Ukraine that has seen the biggest battle in Europe for generations.

Russian media reported on Sunday that Putin also met with the top commander of his military operation in Ukraine, including Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov who is in charge of Moscow's war in Ukraine.

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