Vladimir Putin visits occupied Ukrainian city of Mariupol, Russian state media reports


Vladimir Putin has visited the occupied Ukrainian city of Mariupol, according to Russian media reports.

The president made what state media described as a “working trip” to the port city, which he annexed in September last year following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Mr Putin, who arrived in a helicopter, travelled around several districts of the city, making stops and talking to residents, according to Russia’s TASS state-owned news agency, citing the Kremlin.

It is believed to be his first trip to Ukrainian territory occupied by Russia since its invasion last year.

The visit follows the widely-condemned annexation of the regions of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia in September.

The visit also comes as Mr Putin visited Crimea to mark the ninth anniversary of the Black Sea peninsula’s annexation from Ukraine in 2014.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Razvozhayev visit the Children's Art and Aesthetic center, part of Chersonesos Taurica historical and archeological park in Sevastopol, Crimea, Saturday, March 18, 2023. Putin has traveled to Crimea to mark the ninth anniversary of the Black Sea peninsula's annexation from Ukraine. (Sputnik, Kremlin Press Service Pool Photo via AP)

Image: Mr Putin, right, and Governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Razvozhayev, during his visit to Crimea on Saturday

Most of the world considers Russia’s annexations to be illegal, while Ukraine has said it will fight to get the regions back.

Mariupol, a strategically important port city located in the Donetsk Oblast and beside the Sea of Azov, was the site of some of the fiercest fighting in the early part of the war.

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Ukrainian forces holed up in the city’s Azovstal steelworks for a last-stand defensive, which ended in surrender in May after a three-month siege of the facility by Russia.

A view shows Azovstal steel mill destroyed in the course of Russia-Ukraine conflict in Mariupol, Russian-controlled Ukraine, November 16, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

Image: The Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol

More than 2,500 buildings sustained damage in the siege of Mariupol – nearly half of everything that stood in the city.

Sky News reported in February how Russia had been remodelling the city in its own image since its capture, including turning the ruined steelworks, once one of the biggest metallurgical plants in Europe, into a “tech and eco park”.

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Mariupol: Russia’s new model city

Read our report from April 2022: How the Azovstal steelworks turned into the final outpost in the brutal battle for Mariupol

Alongside the visit, Russian media reported that Mr Putin met with the top command of his military operation in Ukraine, including Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov.

The meeting is said to have taken place at the Rostov-on-Don command post, in southern Russia, near to the Ukrainian border, according to TASS.

On Saturday, the Russian president made a 1,132-mile plane journey from Moscow to Sevastopol – Crimea’s largest city – a day after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for him.

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Vladimir Putin visits Crimea

The court says he is responsible for the abduction of hundreds of Ukrainian children since Russia’s full invasion of the country began in February last year.

In Crimea, he was greeted by Mikhail Razvozhayev – the Russian-installed governor of Sevastopol – before visiting an art school and a children’s centre.

Mr Putin’s remarks were not broadcast by state media but as recently as Friday, he was talking about the importance of holding on to Crimea.

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“Obviously, security issues take top priority for Crimea and Sevastopol now,” he said.

“We will do everything needed to fend off any threats.”

Mr Putin has not commented publicly on the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant, but his spokesman called it “null and void” on Friday.

Russia does not recognise the jurisdiction of the court, which is based in The Hague.

It also does not extradite its citizens to face the court’s justice, meaning Mr Putin is unlikely to ever face trial there.

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