Defiant Putin captures Mariupol, symbol of Ukrainian resistance

(CNN) Vladimir Putin has visited Russia’s occupied Mariupol, in an apparently defiant move reported by the Kremlin just days after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for him.

Putin was taken to Mariupol by helicopter and toured the city’s surrounding districts in a car, according to a Kremlin statement released on Sunday.

It said the Russian leader had stopped in the city’s Nevsky neighborhood to talk to residents and claimed he had been invited to a resident’s home. It was not clear when the attack took place.

News of the trip comes after the ICC on Friday issued arrest warrants against Putin and Russian official Maria Lvova-Belova over an alleged plan to send Ukrainian children to Russia.

The visit could be seen as particularly provocative for Ukrainians because Mariupol has long been a symbol of resistance that has seen some of the most intense fighting since Russia launched its invasion last year.

The Kremlin said Putin also toured Mariupol’s waterfront, visiting the yacht club and theater building.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusanlin spoke in detail to Putin about the “ongoing construction and restoration work” in the city.

The Kremlin said Putin held a meeting at the command post of the special military operation in Rostov-on-Don.

Putin listened to reports from the Chief of the General Staff – First Deputy Defense Minister Valery Gerasimov and a number of military leaders, the statement continued.

Mariupol, a port city on the Sea of ​​Azov, is located in Ukraine’s Donetsk Oblast and has been under direct Russian control since May 2022.

It was in Mariupol that Russian forces carried out some of their most infamous attacks last March, including an assault on a maternity ward and the bombing of a theatre, which forced hundreds of civilians to take refuge.

Mariupol last year became a symbol of Ukrainian resistance during weeks of relentless Russian attacks. Famously, even when most of the city had fallen, its defenders occupied the Azovstal Steel Plant for weeks before the citadel fell.

Defense analysts previously told CNN that the Russian military tried to level Mariupol to make the city “easier to control”.

Of the 450,000 people who lived in the city before the war, more than a third have already left.

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