Insurgent 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 against him.

Putin was flown by helicopter to Mariupol and toured the city’s neighborhoods in a car, according to a Kremlin statement on Sunday.

It said the Russian leader had stopped speaking to residents in the Nevsky neighborhood of the city, claiming he had been invited to a resident’s home. It was not clear 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 plan to deport Ukrainian children to Russia.

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

The Kremlin said Putin also explored Mariupol’s coastline, visiting a yacht club and a theater building.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin spoke at length with Putin about “ongoing construction and restoration work” in the city.

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

Putin heard reports from Chief of 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 Oblast 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 ward last March and the bombing of a theater that forced hundreds of civilians to seek refuge.

Mariupol became a symbol of Ukrainian resistance last year during weeks of brutal Russian attacks. It is famous that even when most of the city had fallen, the defenders held out for weeks in the Azovstal steelworks before the stronghold finally fell.

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

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

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