Ukraine war: Putin pays visit to occupied Mariupol, state media reports

Putin pays visit to occupied Mariupol

Russian President Vladimir Putin has paid a surprise visit to Mariupol, a Ukrainian port captured by Russia after its forces pounded much of it to ruins.

An official video shows Mr Putin driving a car through streets at night and speaking to people. The Kremlin says it happened late on Saturday. It is believed to be his first trip to a newly-occupied Ukrainian territory.

Mariupol’s exiled mayor told BBC News that Mr. Putin was a “criminal” who had “returned to the scene of the crime”.

“He has come in person to see what he has done,” Vadym Boychenko said. “He’s come to see what he will be punished for.”

Other exiled Ukrainian city officials said Mr Putin had visited at night so he would not see the destroyed city in daylight. The Kremlin said Mr Putin’s decision to go to Mariupol had been “spontaneous”. The Russian leader is also reported to have met top military commanders in Rostov-on-Don, a Russian city just east of Mariupol.

Tass news agency says he travelled to Mariupol by helicopter. In the video he is in the car with Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin, who explains how the city is being rebuilt.

Putin also appears to visit the Philharmonic Hall, which was used to stage trials of defenders of the Azovstal iron and steel plant, a huge industrial complex where Ukrainian troops held out before eventually surrendering.

Mariupol has been under Russian occupation for more than 10 months after being devastated in one of the longest and bloodiest battles of the conflict. Ukraine says more than 20,000 people were killed there.

UN analysis estimates that 90% of the buildings were damaged and around 350,000 people were forced to leave, our of a pre-war population of about 500,000.

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