Russian President Putin visits the occupied city of Mariupol

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) – Russian President Vladimir Putin has visited the occupied port city of MariupolRussian state news agencies reported Sunday morning on his first trip to Ukrainian territory, which Moscow illegally annexed in September.

Mariupol became a global symbol of resistance after Ukrainian troops armed with overwhelming and unmanned weapons held out at a steel mill there for almost three months before Moscow finally took control of it in May.

Earlier on Saturday Putin traveled to Crimeajust southwest of Mariupol, marking the ninth anniversary of the Black Sea Peninsula’s annexation by Ukraine.

The visits came days after the International Criminal Court issue an arrest warrant for the Russian leader accusing him of war crimes.

Putin arrived in Mariupol by helicopter and then drove himself around the city’s “memorial sites”, the concert hall and the seafront, the Russian reports said, without specifying when the visit took place. They said Putin also met with local residents in the city’s Nevsky district.

Speaking to the state-run RIA agency on Sunday, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnulin made it clear that Russia would remain in Mariupol. He said the government hopes to complete the reconstruction of the devastated city center by the end of the year.

‚ÄúPeople have started coming back. When they saw that reconstruction was underway, people actively returned,” Khusnulin told RIA.

When Moscow completely conquered the city in May, an estimated 100,000 people remained from a pre-war population of 450,000. Many were trapped without food, water, heat or electricity. Relentless bombardment left rows and rows of buildings destroyed or hollowed out.

Mariupol’s plight first came into focus with a Russian air raid on a maternity hospital on March 9 last year, less than two weeks after Russian troops invaded Ukraine. A week later, about 300 people were reportedly killed in a bombing of a theater that served as the city’s largest bomb shelter. Evidence obtained by the AP last spring indicated that the The actual death toll could be closer to 600.

A small group of Ukrainian fighters lasted 83 days in the sprawling Azovstal Steel Works east of Mariupol before surrendering, their tenacious defenses pinned down Russian forces and became a symbol of Ukrainian tenacity in the face of Moscow aggression.

Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, a move most of the world denounced as illegal, and last September officially claimed four regions in southern and eastern Ukraine as Russian territory, following referendums supporting Kyiv and the West as referred to as a sham.

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