Russian President Vladimir Putin made a surprise visit to the Russian-occupied Ukrainian port city of Mariupol after a stopover in the Crimean Peninsula to mark the ninth anniversary of Moscow’s illegal annexation of the territory in 2014.
The Russian leader arrived late Saturday in Mariupol, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, with video footage showing Putin chatting with residents after earlier visiting an art school and a children’s center in Crimea.
The visits came after the International Criminal Court Friday issued a warrant for Putin’s arrest on war crimes charges for Russia’s seizure of Ukrainian children during the midst of its 13-month invasion. Putin has not commented on the charges and the Kremlin has called the allegations “legally null and void.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has demanded Russia’s withdrawal from Crimea and all areas it has occupied in the eastern regions of Ukraine, but the ground war in Ukraine’s eastern regions has to a large degree stalemated, with neither side gaining much territory.
Putin’s visit to war-torn Ukraine was his first since the February 2022 invasion. Numerous Western leaders supporting Ukraine, including U.S. President Joe Biden, have visited Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital that Putin tried — and failed — to capture in the earliest weeks of the war.
Mariupol was one of the centers of fighting in the first months of the war, although when Russia took full control last May, only about 100,000 residents remained of the city’s prewar population of 450,000.
Mariupol's plight first drew the world’s attention with a Russian airstrike on a maternity hospital March 9, 2022, less than two weeks after Russian troops moved into Ukraine. A week later, about 300 people, and possibly hundreds more, were reported killed in the bombing of a theater that was serving as the city's largest bomb shelter.
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