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Putin visits Russia-occupied Mariupol city in Ukraine

Handout photograph taken and released by the Russian government shows Putin (right), with Governor Mikhail Razvozhayev at the Chersonesos Taurica historical and archeological park in Sevastopol (Russian Presidential Press Office/AFP/Getty)

Handout photograph taken and released by the Russian government shows Putin (right), with Governor Mikhail Razvozhayev at the Chersonesos Taurica historical and archeological park in Sevastopol (Russian Presidential Press Office/AFP/Getty)

Vladimir Putin visited the Russia-occupied city of Mariupol in Ukraine on Sunday, reported news agency TASS.

Mariupol in Donetsk region was captured by Russian forces after a bloody battle in May last year and has remained under the control of Moscow’s fighters since.

The Russian president was seen driving a car around the city as he visited several districts.

He also made stops along the way and spoke to the residents, reported the TASS news agency.

Mr. Putin also met with the top brass leading his military operation in Ukraine, state media said today.

The leader, facing an arrest warrant for war crimes, also met with chief of the general staff Valery Gerasimov who is in charge of Moscow’s war in Ukraine.

The meeting took place at the Rostov-on-Don command post in southern Russia, reported TASS news agency.

This is the first such visit made by the Russian president, who launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February last year, to the country after the conflict erupted in Europe and led to the displacement of millions, thousands of civilian deaths and several thousand being injured.

A day earlier, Mr. Putin made a surprise visit to Crimea to mark the ninth anniversary of the Black Sea peninsula’s annexation from Ukraine.

His trip to the war-hit nation came a day after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant on charges of war crimes, alleging he is personally responsible for the abduction of children from Ukraine following Russia’s invasion.

In Sevastopol, Crimea’s largest city, Mr. Putin met Moscow-installed governor Mikhail Razvozhaev, with whom he visited an art school and a children’s center that are part of a project to develop a historical park on the site of an ancient Greek colony, Russian state news agencies said.

“Our president knows how to surprise. In a good sense. Today we were supposed to inaugurate a children’s art school. Everything was ready for a video conference and a report to the president via a special communication link. In the end, the president came personally. By car. He was at the wheel himself. On such a historic day, the president is always with Sevastopol and the people of Sevastopol. Our country has an incredible leader,” governor Razvozhayev wrote on Telegram.

Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, in a move most of the world denounced as illegal and which soured relations between Moscow and the West. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has said any peace settlement would involve Russia withdrawing from the peninsula as well as the regions it has occupied since last year.

Originally published