Russian President Vladimir Putin made a surprise trip on Saturday to Mariupol, a Ukrainian city his forces captured last year.
Reports say Putin flew in by helicopter. Video from Russian media showed Putin driving a car through after dark, visiting buildings, and meeting with residents.
Russian state news service TASS said it was Putin’s first-ever visit to Donbass, a region in eastern Ukraine, and while there, he received a report from Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin about efforts to rebuild the port city within the eastern region.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has made a surprise visit to the devastated city of Mariupol. This is his first visit to the partly-captured Donbas region of eastern Ukraine since Moscow's 2022 invasion. pic.twitter.com/D7AFwv6MHF
— DW News (@dwnews) March 19, 2023
“In particular, the report concerned the construction of new residential districts, social and educational facilities, utility infrastructure and medical centers,” said the Kremlin press service.
Word of Putin’s visit came about one day after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Putin for alleged war crimes during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in particular the abduction of children.
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, chastised Putin in a post to Twitter.
“The criminal always returns to the crime scene,” said. “As the civilized world announces the arrest of the ‘war director’ (VV Putin) in case of crossing its borders, the murderer of thousands of Mariupol families came to admire the ruins of the city & graves. Cynicism & lack of remorse.”
Russia began what it called a “special military operation” in Ukraine on February 24, 2022, in an ongoing conflict that has led to tens of thousands of deaths and the displacement of millions of people.
Early on in the fight, Moscow’s forces managed to seize roughly a quarter of Ukraine, but the Ukrainians have been able to fend off their advance with the support of a coalition of countries led by the United States that has sent Ukraine billions of dollars of lethal aid and levied waves of sanctions against Russia.
Multiple media reports have characterized Mariupol, which is located in Ukraine’s Donetsk Oblast, as a symbol of Ukrainian resistance as it was the site of fierce fighting during the early months of the war and the site of particularly visceral devastation, including a bombed-out maternity hospital.
Russian forces seized control of Mariupol in May after defeating Ukrainian fighters who were holding out in a steel plant.
Putin signed off on the annexation of four Ukrainian regions, including Donetsk, in October. Shortly after, the United Nations overwhelmingly approved a resolution demanding Moscow reverse course on its “attempted illegal annexation.”