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World News

Putin makes surprise trip to occupied Mariupol

Kyiv, Ukraine — Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the occupied port city of Mariupol, his first trip to Ukrainian territory that Moscow illegally annexed in September and a show of defiance after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for him for crimes of war.

Putin arrived in Mariupol on Saturday evening after visiting Crimea, southwest of Mariupol, to mark the ninth anniversary of the annexation of the Black Sea peninsula to Ukraine, the Kremlin spokesman said on Sunday. , Dmitry Peskov. He was shown chatting with residents of Mariupol and visiting an art school and children’s center in Sevastopol, Crimea.

Mariupol became a global symbol of resistance after Ukrainian forces, outgunned and outmanned, held out at a steel mill there for nearly three months before Moscow finally took control in May. Much of the city was reduced to rubble by Russian bombardment.

Putin has not commented on the arrest warrant, which has deepened his international isolation despite the likelihood that he will face trial any time soon. The Kremlin, which does not recognize the authority of the ICC, dismissed its decision as “legally null and void”.

The surprise trip also preceded a planned visit to Moscow by Chinese President Xi Jinping this week, which is expected to give Putin a major diplomatic boost in his confrontation with the West.

In an essay published Monday in People’s Daily, the newspaper of the Communist Party of China’s Central Committee, Putin said: “We are grateful for (China’s) balanced line regarding the events unfolding in Ukraine, for understanding their context and real causes. We welcome China’s willingness to play a constructive role in resolving the crisis.

China issued a position paper in February calling for an end to fighting in Ukraine and respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries. He did not address how to resolve Russia’s illegal claim to have annexed four regions from Ukraine.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told “Fox News Sunday” that any call for a ceasefire in Ukraine that came out of the Putin-Xi meeting would be unacceptable to the United States. United because it would only “ratify the Russian conquest to date”. and give Moscow “time to refit, retrain, re-equip and try to plan a new offensive”.

Putin arrived in Mariupol by helicopter and then wandered around the city’s “memorial sites”, the concert hall and the coastline, Russian media reported. On Sunday, state broadcaster Rossiya 24 showed Putin chatting with locals outside what looked like a newly built residential complex and being shown around one of the apartments.

After his trip to Mariupol, Putin met with Russian military leaders and troops at a command post in Rostov-on-Don, a city in southern Russia about 180 kilometers (about 112 miles) further east. is, and spoke with General Valery Gerasimov, who is responsible for Russian military operations in Ukraine. said Peskov.

Peskov said the trip was unannounced and that Putin intended “to inspect the work of the (command) post in its ordinary mode of operation.”

Speaking to state agency RIA-Novosti, Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin clarified that Russia was in Mariupol to stay. He said the government hoped to complete the reconstruction of its devastated city center by the end of the year.

“People started coming back. When they saw that the reconstruction was going on, people started to actively come back,” Khusnullin told RIA.

Mykhailo Podolyak, chief of staff to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, scorned Putin’s trip to Mariupol.

“The criminal is always drawn to the scene of the crime,” he said. “As the countries of the civilized world announce the arrest of the ‘war director’ in case of crossing the border, the organizer of the murders of thousands of Mariupol families came to admire the ruins of the city and the mass graves.

When Moscow fully captured the city in May, about 100,000 people remained, out of a pre-war population of 450,000. Many were trapped without food, water, heat or electricity. The incessant shelling left rows of buildings shattered or hollowed out.

The plight of Mariupol first came to international attention with a Russian airstrike on a maternity hospital on March 9, 2022, less than two weeks after the invasion of Ukraine began. A week later, around 300 people were reportedly killed in the bombing of a theater used as the city’s largest bomb shelter. Evidence obtained by The Associated Press suggests the true death toll may be closer to 600.

A small group of Ukrainian fighters held out for 83 days in the vast steelworks of Azovstal in eastern Mariupol before surrendering, their dogged defense pinning down Russian forces and symbolizing Ukrainian tenacity in the face of Moscow’s aggression .

Russia annexed Crimea to Ukraine in 2014, a move that most countries around the world have denounced as illegal, and decided in September to formally claim four regions of southern and eastern Ukraine as territory Russia, following referendums that Kiev and the West have called a fraud.

The ICC on Friday accused Putin of being personally responsible for child abductions in Ukraine. UN investigators also said there was evidence of the forcible transfer of “hundreds” of Ukrainian children to Russia. According to Ukrainian government figures, more than 16,000 children have been deported to territories controlled by Russia or Russia itself, many of them from Mariupol.

While the ICC decision was welcomed by Kyiv, the chances of Putin standing trial are slim as Moscow does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction and does not extradite its nationals.

Ukrainian officials reported on Sunday that at least three civilians had been killed and 19 injured by Russian shelling in the past 24 hours. The deaths took place in the eastern region of Donetsk, amid fierce battles for control of the city of Bakhmut, according to Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko on Ukrainian television.

Kharkiv regional governor Oleh Syniehubov said in a Telegram update that a 51-year-old woman was “fighting for her life” after she was hit by shrapnel as Russian troops fired on the town. border town of Dvorichna.

Ukraine’s top presidential aide Andriy Yermak said Ukrainian troops were holding the line near Bakhmut, a key target in a long and overwhelming Russian offensive, adding that the enemy’s plan to occupy the town was “now sinking”.

Ukraine’s Eastern Forces spokesman said Russian troops were “tactically unable to complete” Bakhmut’s capture.

“Yes, there are very active battles, (the Russians) continue to carry out several dozen inertial attacks, but they suffer huge losses,” Serhii Cherevaty told Ukrainian television, adding that the Ukrainian defenses ” bleed the enemy, shatter his battles”. mind.”

Taking Bakhmut would give the Kremlin a battlefield victory after months of setbacks and could pave the way for Russia to threaten other Ukrainian strongholds in the region, including Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.

Russian forces shelled a house in Bilozerka, a suburb west of the southern city of Kherson, and a woman who was pulled from the rubble was hospitalized, according to the Kherson regional military administration, writing on Telegram.


Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

ABC News

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