President Vladimir Putin made a surprise visit to Mariupol, Russian state media reported on Sunday, in what would be the Kremlin leader's first trip to the Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine's Donbas region since the start of the war.
The visit came after Putin travelled to Crimea on Saturday in an unannounced visit to mark the ninth anniversary of Russia's annexation of the peninsula from Ukraine, and just two days after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for the Russian leader.
Mariupol, which fell to Russia in May after one of the war's longest and bloodiest battles, was Russia's first major victory after it failed to seize Kyiv and focused instead on southeastern Ukraine.
Putin flew by helicopter to Mariupol, Russian new agencies reported citing the Kremlin. It is the closest to the front lines Putin has been since in the year-long war. Driving a car, Putin travelled around several districts of the city, making stops and talking to residents.
Mariupol, on the Sea of Azov, was reduced to a smoldering shell after weeks of fighting. The Organization for Security and Cooperation and Europe (OSCE) said Russia's early bombing of a maternity hospital in Mariupol was a war crime.
The ICC issued an arrest warrant on Friday against Putin, accusing him of the war crime of illegally deporting hundreds of children from Ukraine, a highly symbolic move that isolates the Russian leader further.
While Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has made a number of trips to the battlefield to boost the morale of his troops and talk strategy, Putin has largely remained inside the Kremlin while running what Russia calls its "special military operation" in Ukraine. --- Asharq Al-Awsat