By KARL RITTER (Associated Press)
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the occupied port city of Mariupol, his first trip to Ukrainian territory Moscow illegally annexed in September and a show of defiance after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for war crimes. taxes.
Putin arrived in Mariupol on Saturday evening after visiting Crimea, southwest of Mariupol, to mark the ninth anniversary of Ukraine’s annexation of the Black Sea peninsula, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Sunday. . He was shown talking to residents of Mariupol and visiting an art school and children’s center in Sevastopol, Crimea.
Mariupol became a global symbol of resistance after outgunned and outgunned Ukrainian forces held out at a steel plant there for nearly three months before Moscow took control of it in May. Much of the city was reduced to rubble by Russian bombing.
Putin has not commented on the arrest warrant, which has deepened his international isolation, despite the likelihood that he will face trial soon. The Kremlin, which does not recognize the ICC’s authority, dismissed its decision as “legally null and void.”
The surprise trip also came ahead of a planned visit to Moscow by Chinese President Xi Jinping this week, which is expected to provide a major diplomatic boost to Putin in his confrontation with the West.
Putin arrived in Mariupol by helicopter and then drove himself around the city’s “memorial sites”, the concert hall and the coast, Russian news reports said. State-run channel Rossiya 24 showed Putin on Sunday talking to locals outside what appeared to be a newly built residential complex and being shown around one of the apartments.
After his trip to Mariupol, Putin met with Russian military leaders and troops at a command post in Rostov-on-Don, a southern Russian city about 180 kilometers (about 112 miles) to the east, and discussed with General Valery Gerasimov, who is in charge of Russian military operations in Ukraine. Peskov said.
Peskov said the trip was unannounced and that Putin intended to “inspect the activity of the (command) post in its usual mode of operation.”
Speaking to state news agency RIA-Novosti, Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin said Russia is in Mariupol to stay. He said the government hopes to finish rebuilding its devastated center by the end of the year.
“People started coming back. When they saw that reconstruction was underway, people began to actively return,” Khusnullin told RIA.
Mykhailo Podolyak, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s chief of staff, scorned Putin’s trip to Mariupol.
“The criminal is always attracted to the crime scene,” he said. “While the countries of the civilized world announce the arrest of the “director of war” in case of crossing the border, the organizer of the murders of thousands of families of Mariupol came to admire the ruins of the city and the mass graves.”
When Moscow completely captured the city in May, about 100,000 people remained, out of a pre-war population of 450,000. Many were left stranded without food, water, heat or electricity. Relentless bombing left rows of buildings destroyed or hollowed out.
Mariupol’s plight first came to international attention with a Russian airstrike on a maternity hospital on March 9, 2022, less than two weeks after the invasion of Ukraine began. A week later, about 300 people were killed in the bombing of a theater that was being used as the city’s largest bomb shelter. Evidence obtained by The Associated Press suggested the actual death toll could be closer to 600.
A small group of Ukrainian fighters held out for 83 days in the sprawling Azovstal steelhead in eastern Mariupol before surrendering, their dogged defense tying up Russian forces and coming to symbolize Ukrainian tenacity in the face of Moscow’s aggression.
Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, a move most of the world denounced as illegal, and moved in September to formally claim four regions in southern and eastern Ukraine as Russian territory following referendums which Kiev and the West described as a fake.
The ICC on Friday accused Putin of bearing personal responsibility for the abductions of children in Ukraine. UN investigators also said there was evidence of the forced transfer of “hundreds” of Ukrainian children to Russia. According to Ukrainian government figures, more than 16,000 children have been deported to Russian-controlled territories or even to Russia, many of them from Mariupol.
While the ICC move has been welcomed by Kiev, the chances of Putin being tried are slim, as Moscow does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction or extradite its citizens.
Ukrainian officials reported on Sunday that at least three civilians had been killed and 19 wounded by Russian shelling in the past 24 hours. The deaths occurred in the eastern Donetsk region amid fierce battles for control of the city of Bakhmut, Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko told Ukrainian TV.
Kharkiv regional governor Oleh Syniehubov said in a Telegram update that a 51-year-old woman was “fighting for her life” after being hit by shrapnel as Russian troops fired on the border town of Dvorichna.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Andriy Yermak said Ukrainian troops were holding the line near Bakhmut, a key target of a long and grinding Russian offensive, adding that the enemy’s plan to take the city was “now collapsing”.
The spokesman for Ukraine’s eastern forces said Russian troops were “tactically unable to complete” the capture of Bakhmut.
“Yes, there are very active battles, (the Russians) continue to carry out several dozen counterattacks, but they are suffering huge losses,” Serhii Cherevaty said on Ukrainian TV, adding that Ukrainian defenses “are bleeding the enemy, stopping their fight. spirit.”
Taking Bakhmut would give the Kremlin a battlefield victory after months of setbacks and could pave the way for Russia to threaten other Ukrainian strongholds in the region, including Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.
Russian forces shelled a house in Bilozerka, a suburb west of the southern city of Kherson, and a woman who was pulled from the rubble was hospitalized, according to the Kherson regional military administration, writing on Telegram.
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