Putin drives around occupied Ukrainian city of Mariupol in shock Ukraine visit days after war crimes arrest warrant
VLADIMIR Putin made a shocking visit to the occupied Ukrainian city of Mariupol, according to Russian state media.
He was filmed by Russian state television drives around the affected city and meets with residents on his first visit to Ukraine since the beginning Russia’s Invasion in February last year.
It came just a few days after a an arrest warrant has been issued for the tyrant about alleged war crimes in the war-torn country.
State media reported that Mr Putin, 70, had made a “business trip” to the war-torn port city of Mariupol, his first visit to Russian-occupied territory in the region. Donbas of Ukraine since the beginning of the conflict.
Putin flew into the city by helicopter, Russian news agencies reported citing the Kremlin.
He went around several districts, stopping and talking to the people.
During a trip to a new apartment building, Putin told Ukrainians: “We need to start getting to know each other better.”
However, some commentators doubted whether the Russian President was actually in Mariupol, or suggested that the “residents” he met were actors.
This is Putin’s closest place to the front line since the year-long war began.
Mariupol fell in May after one of the longest and bloodiest battles of the war, marking Russia’s first major victory after failing to capture Kyiv and focusing instead on southeastern Ukraine.
It is believed that the city was chosen deliberately in response to an ISS arrest warrant.
Ukraine claims up to 1,000 of the estimated 14,700 children Russia has kidnapped since the start of the invasion are from Mariupol.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation and Europe (OSCE) said Russia’s early bombing of a maternity hospital there was a war crime.
While Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has made several trips to the battlefield to boost military morale and discuss strategy, Putin has largely remained in the Kremlin.
In the Nevsky district of Mariupol, Mr. Putin visited a family at their home, Russian media reported.
The new residential complex has been built by the Russian military and the first people moved in last September after it was illegally annexed.
The residents were “actively” returning, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin, who accompanied Putin, was quoted by Russian agencies as saying.
Mariupol had a population of half a million people before the war and was home to the Azovstal steel mill, one of the largest in Europe.
Khusnullin said: “The downtown area has been badly damaged.
“We want to finish (reconstruct) the center by the end of the year, at least the façade. The center is very beautiful.”
Russian media have broadcast videos showing the Russian leader driving his car at night through a densely populated area as well as entering what the media called a symphony orchestra, which was restored after just three months. .
There was also no immediate response to the visit from Kiev.
Mariupol is in the Donetsk region, one of four regions that Putin moved to annex in September.
Kiev and its Western allies condemned the move as illegal.
Russian media reported on Sunday that Putin also met the top commander of his military operation in Ukraine, including Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov, who is responsible for Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
It comes after Putin appeared in the disputed territory of Crimea by Ukraine on Saturday, as part of celebrations Russia is holding to mark the anniversary of its illegal annexation of the territory in 2014.
In a short clip posted on the Russian social network VK, one can see Mr. Putin, 70, walking with his head bowed.
He was seen opening an art school and a children’s center in the port city of Sevastopol.
The visit comes after the International Criminal Court on Friday accused Russian tyrants “illegal deportation” of children from Ukraine – a War Crimes under the Geneva Convention.
Along with Putin, officials at the ICC accused his commissioner for children, Maria Lvova-Belova, of orchestrating the kidnapping of thousands of children.
The video shot in February shows Putin and Lvova-Belova casually discuss how she brought back a child from Ukraine.
Putin is seen approving Lvova-Belova personally taking the boy from Mariupol, a city in southern Ukraine, razed by the Russia’s Invasion last year.
Putin has yet to comment publicly on the ICC order, but his trips into Russian-claimed Ukrainian territory have been seen by some observers as acts of defiance.