Vladimir Putin has visited Russian-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 flown into Mariupol by helicopter and toured districts around the city in a car, according to a Kremlin statement issued on Sunday.
It said the Russian leader had stopped to speak to residents in the city’s Nevsky neighborhood and claimed he was invited into a resident’s home. It did not make clear when the visit took place.
News of the visit comes after the ICC issued arrest warrants on Friday for Putin and Russian official Maria Lvova-Belova for an alleged scheme to deport Ukrainian children to Russia.
The visit is likely to be seen as particularly provocative to Ukrainians as Mariupol was long a symbol of resistance that has witnessed some of the most intense fighting since Russia launched its invasion last year.
The Kremlin said Putin also examined the coastline of Mariupol, visiting a yacht club and theater building.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin spoke in detail to Putin about “ongoing construction and restoration work” in the city.
The Kremlin added that Putin held a meeting at the command post of the special military operation in Rostov-on-Don.
Putin heard reports from the Chief of the General Staff – First Deputy Minister of Defense 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 notorious strikes, including an attack on a maternity ward last March and the bombing of a theater which forced hundreds of civilians to seek refuge.
Mariupol became a symbol of Ukrainian resistance during weeks of relentless Russian attacks last year. Famously, even when most of the city had fallen, its defenders held out at the Azovstal steel plant for weeks before the stronghold finally fell.
Defense analysts previously told CNN that Russian forces tried to flatten 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.