Russian President Vladimir Putin made a weekend visit to the occupied Ukrainian city of Mariupol, inspecting reconstruction work and visiting the home of at least one local resident, the Kremlin said in a statement Sunday.
Putin arrived Saturday night in the port city that has been under Russian control since May and was illegally annexed by Moscow in September.
“As befits a thief, Putin visited Ukrainian Mariupol, under the cover of night,” the Ukraine Defense Ministry tweeted. “First, it is safer. Also, darkness allows him to highlight what he wants to show, and keeps the city his army completely destroyed and its few surviving inhabitants away from prying eyes.”
Putin flew in by helicopter, and then drove through the city inspecting reconstruction work in several neighborhoods, the statement said. It was Putin’s second trip to 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 his office responsible for children’s rights. The court cited their alleged involvement in the unlawful deportation of children from occupied areas of Ukraine to Russia.
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Mariupol remains symbol of Ukrainian resistance
Mariupol, on the Sea of Azov in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukrainemade international news a year ago when a Russian airstrike slammed into a maternity hospital less than two weeks after Russian troops invaded Ukraine. A week later, about 300 people were reported killed in the bombing of a theater that was serving as the city’s largest bomb shelter. Evidence obtained by the AP last spring suggested that the real death toll could be closer to 600.
The fierce battle for the city finally ended when the a small group of Ukrainian fighters surrendered after holding out for 83 days in the sprawling Azovstal steel works in eastern Mariupol. Their determination symbolized Ukrainian tenacity in the face of Moscow’s aggression.
The city, formerly home to more than 430,000 people, is direct Russian control since May.
LIFE BECAME SUFFERING:Illustrated stories from the siege of Mariupol.
Russian official: Mariupol annexation is permanent
Speaking to the state RIA agency Sunday, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnulin made clear that Russia was in Mariupol to stay. He said the government hoped to finish the reconstruction of its blasted downtown by the end of the year.
“People have started to return. When they saw that reconstruction is under way, people started actively returning,” Khusnulin told RIA.
Contributing: The Associated Press