Defiant Putin visits occupied Mariupol, symbol of Ukrainian resistance

Defiant Putin visits occupied Mariupol, symbol of Ukrainian resistance

(CNN) Vladimir Putin has visited Russian-occupied Mariupol, in an apparently defiant move reported by the Kremlin just days after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for him.

Putin was flown to Mariupol by helicopter and toured the city’s surrounding districts in a car, footage released by Russian authorities showed.

The Russian president is shown meeting seemingly surprised residents. Putin tells a man “we should start getting to know each other better”.

A Kremlin statement did not say when the visit took place.

News of the visit comes after the ICC issued arrest warrants on Friday for Putin and Russian official Maria Lvova-Belova over an alleged scheme to deport Ukrainian children to Russia.

The visit is likely to be seen as particularly provocative to Ukrainians as Mariupol has long been a symbol of resistance that has seen some of the most intense fighting since Russia launched its occupation last year.

During the trip, the Kremlin said Putin also examined Mariupol’s coastline, visiting a yacht club and a theater building.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin, who accompanied him, spoke in detail with Putin about “ongoing construction and restoration work” in the city.

The Kremlin added that Putin held a meeting at the command post of the special military operation in Rostov-on-Don.

Putin heard reports from the chief of the general staff — First Deputy Defense Minister Valery Gerasimov and a number of military leaders, the statement continued.

Mariupol, a port city on the Sea of ​​Azov, is located in Ukraine’s Donetsk region and has been under direct Russian control since May 2022.

It was in Mariupol that Russian forces carried out some of their most notorious attacks, including an attack on a maternity hospital last March and the bombing of a theater that forced hundreds of civilians to seek shelter.

Mariupol became a symbol of Ukrainian resistance during weeks of relentless Russian attacks last year. Famously, even when most of the city had fallen, its defenders held out at the Azovstal steelworks for weeks before the fortress finally fell.

Defense analysts previously told CNN that Russian forces sought to flatten Mariupol to make the city “easier to control.”

Of the 450,000 people who lived in the city before the war, more than a third have already left.

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