Russian President Vladimir Putin made a weekend visit to the occupied Ukrainian city of Mariupol, where he inspected reconstruction work and visited the home of at least one local resident, the Kremlin said in a statement on Sunday.
Putin arrived on Saturday night in the port city, which has been under Russian control since May and was illegally annexed by Moscow in September.
“As befits a thief, Putin visited Ukrainian Mariupol under the cover of night,” the Ukrainian Defense Ministry tweeted. “For one, it’s safer. The darkness also allows him to highlight what he wants to show, and keeps the city, his army completely destroyed, and its few surviving inhabitants away from prying eyes.”
Putin flew in by helicopter and then drove through the city to inspect reconstruction work in several neighborhoods, the statement said. It was Putin’s second trip to newly annexed territories, this time after visiting Crimea on Saturday to mark the ninth anniversary of Russia’s illegal takeover of the Black Sea peninsula.
The news comes less than two days after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants for Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, an official in his office responsible for children’s rights. The court cited their alleged involvement in the illegal deportation of children from occupied territories of Ukraine to Russia.
Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted that when the civilized world announced the arrest warrants, “the killer of thousands of Mariupol families came to admire the ruins” of the city and its graves.
“The criminal always returns to the scene of the crime,” Pololyak tweeted. “Cynicism and Lack of Remorse.”
►Putin, speaking on state television, said he would not launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine until 2022 because Russia’s military and economy were not sufficiently prepared when Moscow invaded Crimea in 2014.
►The People’s Friendship University of Russia in Moscow has replaced a vice-chancellor after an exhibition of a Ukrainian flag. The exhibition held last month was dedicated to national communities and included a section on Ukrainian culture.
►Putin signed two bills in recent days that significantly increase fines and prison terms for disparaging Russian forces in Ukraine — and for selling Russian weapons to Ukraine or its supporters.
►The head of the Russian Wagner group of mercenaries, Yevgeny Prigohzin, says that Ukrainian forces are preparing to launch counteroffensives in five directions in mid-April. The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War says Prigohzin urged Russian forces to prepare by conserving ammunition and equipment.
PUTIN ARREST WARRANTY:Biden calls arrest warrant for Putin ‘justified’; widespread attacks hit Ukraine
OPINION:Don’t send cluster bombs to Ukraine. Just look at Laos.
Ukraine is lobbying for accelerated EU membership
A Ukrainian official will discuss his nation’s progress toward meeting seven criteria for EU membership at a meeting of EU ministers on Monday as Ukraine struggles to meet a self-imposed but unlikely two-year deadline for membership.
Olha Stefanishyna, deputy prime minister for European integration, said Kyiv will have completed the implementation of most of the criteria ahead of a progress report likely to be presented in May. By then, the Ukrainian parliament will have passed a law that meets the crucial criteria for media reform, she said.
“The concept of reforming the law enforcement agencies has been prepared and must be approved by the president’s decision,” she added, telling European Pravda “we are close (for) anti-corruption, law enforcement and the judiciary.”
The government plans to address the issue of oligarch influence through anti-monopoly and anti-corruption measures — without drawing up a controversial “oligarch register,” she said.
“In times of war, naming and shaming, ie naming specific individuals subject to this law, is not a priority,” she said.
Poland and some other neighbors of Ukraine strongly support a speedy process for Ukraine. French President Emmanuel Macron said last year that it could take decades.
Russia faces heavy losses of soldiers, equipment almost daily
Ukraine’s defense forces claimed to “eliminate” more than 700 Russian soldiers in a single day on Saturday, and they also destroyed 21 tanks and 25 other armored fighting vehicles. On Sunday, Ukraine reported that Russia had carried out more than a dozen airstrikes of various types, hitting a residential building in the Vasylivsky district and civilian infrastructure objects in Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and other regions.
“There are dead and injured, high-rise buildings, private residential buildings and schools have been damaged,” the Ukrainian military said, issuing a warning that the threat of the likelihood of attacks across Ukraine “remains high.”
Mariupol remains a symbol of Ukrainian resistance
The Mariupol that Putin visited is very similar to the city 13 months ago. Mariupol, on the Sea of Azov in the bitterly contested Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, was left in ruins by Russia’s relentless bombing in the first weeks of the war.
A Russian airstrike hit a maternity hospital less than two weeks after Russian troops invaded the neighboring country, and a week later, around 300 people were reported killed in the bombing of a theater that served as the city’s largest bomb shelter. Evidence suggested the real death toll may have been closer to 600.
The fierce battle for the city finally ended when a small group of Ukrainian fighters surrendered after holding out for 83 days in the sprawling Azovstal steelworks in eastern Mariupol. Their determination symbolized Ukrainian persistence in the face of Moscow’s aggression.
The city, formerly home to more than 430,000 people, has been under direct Russian control since May.
MARIUPOL THEATER BOMBING:Blasting was a deliberate war crime
LIFE BECAME LITTLE:Illustrated stories from the siege of Mariupol.
Russian official: Mariupol annexation is permanent
Speaking to the state-run RIA agency on Sunday, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnulin made it clear that Russia was in Mariupol to stay. He said the government hoped to finish rebuilding its devastated center by the end of the year.
“People have started to return. When they saw that reconstruction is underway, people actively started to return,” Khusnulin told RIA.
Featured: Associated Press