Mariupol became a global symbol of resistance after Ukrainian troops with fewer weapons and less manpower held out in a steel mill there for nearly three months before Moscow finally took control of it in May. Much of the city was reduced to rubble by Russian shelling.
Putin has not commented on the arrest warrant, which exacerbated his international isolation despite the improbability of facing trial any time soon. The Kremlin, which does not recognize the ICC’s authority, has rejected his move as “legally 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, then drove around the city’s “memorial sites,” concert hall and coastline, according to Russian news reports. State channel Rossiya 24 on Sunday showed Putin chatting with 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 some 180 kilometers (about 112 miles) further east, and conferred with General Valery Gerasimov, who is responsible for Russian military operations in Ukraine. Peskov said.
Peskov said the trip was unannounced and that Putin intended “to inspect the work of the (command) post in its normal operation”.
In a conversation with the state agency RIA-Novosti, Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin made it clear that Russia would remain in Mariupol. He said the government hoped to complete reconstruction of the devastated center by the end of the year.
“People are starting to return. When they saw that the reconstruction was going on, people started to actively return,” Khusnullin told RIA.
Mykhailo Podolyak, chief of staff of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, expressed contempt for Putin’s trip to Mariupol.
“The criminal is always drawn to the crime scene,” he said. “While the countries of the civilized world are announcing the arrest of the ‘war director’ in case of crossing the border, the organizer of the murders of thousands of Mariupol families came to admire the ruins of the city and mass graves.”
When Moscow completely captured the city in May, an estimated 100,000 people remained, out of a pre-war population of 450,000. Many were trapped without food, water, heating or electricity. Relentless bombing left rows of shattered or hollowed-out buildings.
The plight of Mariupol 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 reportedly killed in the bombing of a theater used as the city’s largest bomb shelter. Evidence obtained by The Associated Press suggested the true death toll could be closer to 600.
A small group of Ukrainian fighters held out for 83 days in the sprawling Azovstal steel mill in eastern Mariupol before surrendering. Their tenacious defense tied down the Russian troops and symbolized Ukrainian tenacity in the face of Moscow’s aggression.
Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, a move deemed illegal by most of the world, and moved in September to officially claim four regions in southern and eastern Ukraine as Russian territory after referenda that voted Kiev and described the West as a sham.
The ICC on Friday accused Putin of personal responsibility for the kidnapping of children from Ukraine. UN investigators also said there was evidence of the forcible transfer of “hundreds” of Ukrainian children to Russia. According to Ukrainian government figures, more than 16,000 children have been deported to Russian-controlled areas or to Russia itself, many of them from Mariupol.
While the move by the ICC was welcomed by Kiev, Putin is unlikely to stand trial, as Moscow does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction and does not extradite its nationals.
Ukrainian officials reported on Sunday that at least three civilians were killed and 19 injured by Russian shelling in the past 24 hours. The dead occurred in the eastern region of Donetsk amid fierce fighting for control of the city of Bakhmut, according to Ukrainian TV governor Pavlo Kyrylenko.
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 when Russian troops fired on the border town of Dvorichna.
Ukrainian presidential aide Andriy Yermak said Ukrainian troops were holding the line at Bakhmut, a key target of a protracted crushing Russian offensive.
Ukraine’s Eastern Armed Forces spokesman said Russian forces are “tactically unable” to complete Bakhmut’s capture.
“Yes, there are very active battles, (the Russians) continue to launch dozens of attacks due to inertia, but they suffer huge losses,” Serhii Cherevaty said on Ukrainian TV, adding that the Ukrainian defense “bleeds the enemy, breaks its fighting .” 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 troops shelled a house in Bilozerka, a suburb west of the southern city of Kherson, and a woman pulled from the rubble was hospitalized, according to the Kherson Regional Military Administration, writing on Telegram.
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