The Ukrainian government has sharply condemned the visit of Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin to the Russian-occupied Ukrainian port of Mariupol. "Criminals always return to the scene of a crime," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's adviser Mikhail Podoliak wrote on Twitter on Sunday. “The murderer of thousands of families in Mariupol came to admire the city ruins and their tombs. Cynicism and lack of remorse," he added.
Ukraine's Defense Ministry said Putin visited the city, which had been largely destroyed by Russian bombardments, under cover of night "as befits a thief." The darkness enabled him to protect the city "and its few surviving inhabitants from prying eyes".
The exiled city councilor of Mariupol also stated that Putin had apparently visited the city at night "in order not to see the city destroyed by his 'liberation' by daylight". The city council called the Russian president an "international criminal". The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Putin on Friday.
For the first time since Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine began, Kremlin chief Putin traveled to the occupied territories at the weekend. As the Kremlin announced on Sunday night, Putin had paid a “working visit” to the port city of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov, which had been destroyed in heavy fighting.
After his arrival in a helicopter, he informed himself about the situation during a tour and also talked to residents of the city, the state agency Tass reported. Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Marat Chusnullin informed Putin about the status of the reconstruction work. Damage to buildings could also be seen.
Russia launched a war of aggression against Ukraine on February 24 last year. Mariupol was besieged by Russian troops and only came under full Russian military control on May 20. The city was largely destroyed during the fighting.
Earlier, Putin traveled to the Black Sea peninsula to mark the ninth anniversary of Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula. The Russian head of state paid an unannounced visit to the port city of Sevastopol, the home port of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, Russian television reported on Saturday. There he attended an art school, accompanied by the local governor Mikhail Rasvozhayev, as shown by pictures from the Rossia-1 TV channel.
Putin also visited a children's holiday camp, which is located at an excavation site of the ancient city of Chersonesus in what is now Sevastopol and is intended to bring history closer to children.
It was the Russian president's first visit to Crimea to mark the anniversary of the annexation since 2020. At the time, he presented medals to the construction workers of the Crimean Bridge, which runs from the Russian mainland to the annexed peninsula. In 2021 and 2022, Putin celebrated the celebrations in Moscow at a major concert.
Since the beginning of the war of aggression he ordered against Ukraine, the Russian president has generally avoided areas close to the front. At the end of 2022, he tested the navigability of the Crimean Bridge, which was badly damaged by an attack in the fall.
In 2014, after a controversial referendum that the government in Kiev and the West considered illegal, the Ukrainian peninsula was incorporated into Russia's own territory in violation of international law. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced in January that he wanted to retake Crimea, "our country", by force of arms. Moscow, on the other hand, keeps emphasizing that Crimea is Russian and refuses to negotiate about it.
After his visits to Ukraine, Putin met with the commanders of the Russian armed forces fighting in Ukraine, according to the Russian news agency TASS in Rostov-on-Don. Among other things, Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov reported to him on the situation at the fronts.
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