Vladimir Putin visited the devastated Ukrainian city of Mariupol, his first visit to a conquered area since the start of Russia’s offensive in Ukraine, after an international arrest warrant was issued for the Russian president.
Putin flew to Mariupol by helicopter and toured the city in a car, the Kremlin press service said Sunday, quoted by Russian news agencies.
According to video broadcast by Russian public television, the trip took place at night, with Putin being shown in the streets and speaking speaking with residents. “We pray for you,” Putin assured one of the residents, saying the city was “a little piece of paradise.”
The Russian leader also visited a reconstructed local musical theater and followed the presentation of a report on the reconstruction works of this devastated city, according to the Kremlin.
This is his first trip to the Ukrainian port city, which was besieged for months by Russian forces before falling in May 2022.
Ukrainian officials have slammed the visit, calling Putin an “international criminal”.
“The criminal always returns to the crime scene,” said Mykhail Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
According to the Kremlin, before going to Mariupol on Saturday evening, Putin also held a meeting in Rostov, Russia, with Russian army officials, including Chief of Staff Valeri Guerassimov.
On Saturday he visited the port city of Sevastopol in Russian-occupied Crimea, as part of a weekend of ‘celebrations’ marking the illegal 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea.
There were events to mark the anniversary in St. Petersburg, as well as Crimea itself where the far-right Night Wolves criminal biker gang, closely associated with Vladimir Putin for a number years, staged a rally.
On Friday, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Putin for war crimes because of his alleged involvement in abductions of children from Ukraine.
The court said in a statement that the Russian president is “is allegedly responsible for the war crime of unlawful deportation of population (children) and that of unlawful transfer of population (children) from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.”
A Kremlin spokesperson called the arrest warrant “outrageous and unacceptable”, and labeled the ICC’s decisions as “legally void.”
The ICC said that its pre-trial chamber found there were “reasonable grounds to believe that each suspect bears responsibility for the war crime of unlawful deportation of population and that of unlawful transfer of population from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation, in prejudice of Ukrainian children.”
More than 16,000 Ukrainian children have been deported to Russia since the invasion began, according to Kyiv, and many have been placed in institutions and foster homes.
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