KYIV, Ukraine — Russian President Vladimir Putin has visited the occupied port metropolis of Mariupol, his first journey to the Ukrainian territory that Moscow illegally annexed in September.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov mentioned that Putin arrived in Mariupol late Saturday after visiting Crimea, a brief distance southwest of Mariupol, to mark the ninth anniversary of the Black Sea peninsula’s annexation from Ukraine. Mariupol grew to become a worldwide image of defiance after outgunned and outmanned Ukrainian forces held out in a metal mill there for almost three months earlier than Moscow lastly took management of it in Could.

The visits, throughout which Putin was proven chatting with native residents in Mariupol and visiting an artwork college and a kids’s heart in Crimea, have been a present of defiance by the Russian chief two days after a courtroom issued a warrant for his arrest on warfare crimes fees.

Putin has not commented on the arrest warrant, which deepened his worldwide isolation regardless of the unlikelihood of him dealing with trial anytime quickly. The Kremlin has rejected the transfer by the Worldwide Felony Courtroom as “legally null and void.”

The journey additionally got here forward of a deliberate go to to Moscow by Chinese language President Xi Jinping this week, anticipated to supply a significant diplomatic increase to Putin in his confrontation with the West.

Putin arrived in Mariupol by helicopter after which drove himself across the metropolis’s “memorial websites,” live performance corridor and shoreline, Russian information studies mentioned. The state Rossiya 24 channel on Sunday confirmed Putin chatting with locals exterior what regarded like a newly constructed residential complicated, and being proven round one of many residences.

Following his journey to Mariupol, Putin met with Russian army leaders and troops at a command submit in Rostov-on-Don, a southern Russian metropolis some 180 kilometers additional east, and conferred with Gen. Valery Gerasimov who’s answerable for the Russian army operations in Ukraine. Peskov mentioned.

Peskov instructed reporters that the journey had been unannounced, and that Putin supposed to “examine the work of the (command) submit in its atypical mode of operation.”

Talking to the state RIA company Sunday, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin made clear that Russia was in Mariupol to remain. He mentioned the federal government hoped to complete the reconstruction of its blasted downtown by the tip of the yr.

“Individuals have began to return. Once they noticed that reconstruction is below manner, individuals began actively returning,” Khusnullin instructed RIA.

When Moscow absolutely captured town in Could, an estimated 100,000 individuals remained, out of a prewar inhabitants of 450,000. Many have been trapped with out meals, water, warmth or electrical energy. Relentless bombardment left rows upon rows of shattered or hollowed-out buildings.

Mariupol’s plight first got here into worldwide focus with a Russian airstrike on a maternity hospital on March 9 final yr, lower than two weeks after Russian troops moved into Ukraine. Per week later, about 300 individuals have been reported killed within the bombing of a theater that was serving as town’s largest bomb shelter. Proof obtained by the AP final spring recommended that the actual demise toll could possibly be nearer to 600.

A small group of Ukrainian fighters held out for 83 days within the sprawling Azovstal metal works in japanese Mariupol earlier than surrendering, their dogged protection tying down Russian forces and coming to represent Ukrainian tenacity within the face of Moscow’s aggression.

Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, a transfer that a lot of the world denounced as unlawful, and moved on final September to formally declare 4 areas in Ukraine’s south and east as Russian territory, following referendums that Kyiv and the West described as a sham.

The ICC on Friday accused Putin of bearing private accountability for the abductions of youngsters from Ukraine. U.N. investigators additionally mentioned there was proof for the pressured switch of “a whole bunch” of Ukrainian kids to Russia. In keeping with Ukrainian authorities figures, over 16,000 kids have been deported to Russian-controlled territories or Russia itself, lots of them from Mariupol.

Peskov reaffirmed on Sunday that Moscow considers “any selections by the Worldwide Felony Courtroom’s legally null and void.” Whereas the transfer by the ICC Friday was welcomed by Kyiv, the probabilities of Putin dealing with trial are slim as a result of Moscow doesn’t acknowledge the courtroom’s jurisdiction or extradite its nationals.

In Ukraine, native officers on Sunday reported that at the very least three civilians had been killed and at the very least 19 others have been wounded by Russian shelling within the earlier 24 hours. The three deaths have been within the japanese Donetsk area, the place fierce battles are happening for management of town of Bakhmut, its governor Pavlo Kyrylenko mentioned on Ukrainian TV. Kharkiv regional Gov. Oleh Syniehubov mentioned in a Telegram replace {that a} 51-year-old lady was “combating for her life” after being hit by shrapnel as Russian troops fired on the border city of Dvorichna.

A high Ukrainian presidential aide on Sunday asserted that Ukrainian troops have been holding the road close to Bakhmut, a key goal of Russia’s monthslong grinding offensive. Andriy Yermak, the top of Ukraine’s presidential workplace, mentioned in televised remarks that “the enemies’ plans to occupy (town) at the moment are foundering.”

Taking Bakhmut would grant the Kremlin a long-awaited battlefield victory after months of setback, and will pave the way in which for Russia to threaten different Ukrainian strongholds within the area, together with Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.


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