Putin visits Russian-occupied Mariupol in first trip to Ukraine as he praises 'reconstruction work'

19 March 2023, 10:01 | Updated: 19 March 2023, 10:37

Putin visits Russian-occupied Mariupol in first trip to Ukraine
Putin visits Russian-occupied Mariupol in first trip to Ukraine. Picture: Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

Russian President Vladimir Putin has visited the port city of Mariupol in his first trip to Ukrainian territory that Moscow illegally annexed in September.

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Putin visited Mariupol on Sunday after Moscow took control of the city last May, Russian state news agencies reported.

The city became a worldwide symbol of defiance after outgunned and outmanned Ukrainian forces held out in a steel mill there for nearly three months.

Putin arrived in Mariupol by helicopter and then drove himself around the city's "memorial sites", concert hall and coastline, the Russian reports said, without specifying exactly when the visit took place. They said Mr Putin also met with residents in the city's Nevskyi district.

It comes after the tyrant travelled to Crimea, a short distance south-west of the city, on Saturday to mark the ninth anniversary of the Black Sea peninsula's annexation from Ukraine.

Read more: US and UK welcome arrest warrant issued for Russian President Vladimir Putin over alleged war crimes in Ukraine

Read more: Mutiny for Putin: Footage emerges of Russian troops refusing to go to war as they fear being sent to 'certain death'

Putin talks with local residents during his visit to Mariupol in Russian-controlled Donetsk region
Putin talks with local residents during his visit to Mariupol in Russian-controlled Donetsk region. Picture: Alamy
Putin escorted by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin visits the Mariupol theatre during his visit to Mariupol
Putin escorted by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin visits the Mariupol theatre during his visit to Mariupol. Picture: Alamy

Speaking to the state RIA agency on Sunday, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnulin made clear that Russia is in Mariupol to stay.

He said the government hoped to finish the reconstruction of its damaged city centre by the end of the year.

"People have started to return," he said. "When they saw that reconstruction is under way, people started actively returning."

It comes after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Putin, accusing him of war crimes.

Vladimir Putin visits Crimea following war crimes arrest warrant

When Moscow fully 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, heat or electricity. Relentless bombardment left rows upon rows of shattered or hollowed-out buildings.

Russia's air strike on a maternity hospital in Mariupol on March 9 last year, less than two weeks after Russian troops moved into Ukraine.

A week later, about 300 people were reported killed in the bombing of a theatre that was serving as the city's largest bomb shelter.

A small group of Ukrainian fighters held out for 83 days in the sprawling Azovstal steelworks in eastern Mariupol before surrendering, their dogged defence tying down Russian forces and coming to symbolise Ukrainian tenacity in the face of Moscow's aggression.

Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, a move that most of the world denounced as illegal, and moved on last September to officially claim four regions in Ukraine's south and east as Russian territory.

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