Vladimir Putin makes surprise trip to Russian-occupied Mariupol in wake of ICC warrant
“PIECE OF HEAVEN”
Putin’s trip to Mariupol took place in darkness. State TV showed him at the wheel of a car, driving through the city in the company of his deputy prime minister, Khusnullin, and being briefed in detail on the rebuilding of housing, bridges, hospitals, transport routes and a concert hall.
State media said he visited a new residential neighbourhood that had been built by Russian military with the first people moving in last September.
“Do you live here? Do you like it?” Putin was shown asking residents.
“Very much. It’s a little piece of heaven that we have here now,” a woman replied, clasping her hands and thanking Putin for “the victory”.
Residents have been “actively” returning, Khusnullin told Putin. Mariupol had a population of half a million people before the war and was home to the Azovstal steel plant, one of Europe’s largest, where Ukrainian fighters held out for weeks in underground tunnels and bunkers before being forced to surrender.
“The downtown has been badly damaged,” Khusnullin said. “We want to finish (reconstruction) of the centre by the end of the year, at least the facade part. The centre is very beautiful.”
There was no immediate reaction to the visit from the Ukrainian government.
Mariupol is in the Donetsk region, one of four largely Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine that Putin moved in September to annex in an action rejected as illegal by most countries at the United Nations General Assembly.
Putin travelled there by helicopter after a visit to Crimea on the ninth anniversary of its annexation by Russia from Ukraine.
From Mariupol, he went to Rostov in southern Russia, where state TV on Sunday showed him meeting Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov, commander of Russia’s war effort in Ukraine.