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.
Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted that as the civilized world announced the arrest warrants, “the murderer of thousands of Mariupol families came to admire the ruins” of the city and its graves.
“The criminal always returns to the crime scene,” Pololyak tweeted. “Cynicism & lack of remorse.”
►Putin signed two bills into law in recent days that significantly increase fines and jail time for disparaging Russian forces in Ukraine – and for selling Russian arms to Ukraine or its supporters.
►The leader of the Russian Wagner Group mercenaries, Yevgeny Prigohzin, says Ukrainian forces are preparing to launch counteroffensives in five directions in mid-April. The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War says Prigohzin urged Russian forces to prepare by preserving ammunition and equipment.
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Russia facing big losses of soldiers, equipment almost daily
Ukraine defense forces claimed to “eliminate” more than 700 Russian troops in a single day on Saturday, also destroying 21 tanks and 25 other combat armored vehicles. On Sunday, Ukraine reported that Russia had carried out more than a dozen airstrikes of various types, hitting a residential building in the Vasylivsky district and civilian infrastructure objects in Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and other regions.
“There are dead and wounded, high-rise buildings, private residential buildings and schools have been damaged,” the Ukraine military said, issuing a warning that the threat of probability of strikes throughout Ukraine “remains high.”
Mariupol remains symbol of Ukrainian resistance
The Mariupol that Putin visited bears little resemblance to the city of 13 months ago. Mariupol, on the Sea of Azov in the bitterly contested Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, was left in ruin by Russia’s unrelenting bombing in the early weeks of the war. A Russian airstrike slammed into a maternity hospital less than two weeks after Russian troops invaded its neighbor, and a week later about 300 people were reported killed in the bombing of a theater serving as the city’s largest bomb shelter. Evidence suggested that the real death toll could have been 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.
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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 devastated
downtown by the end of the year.
“People have started to return. When they saw that reconstruction is underway, people started actively returning,” Khusnulin told RIA.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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