A bold Putin visits the occupied Mariupol, a symbol of the Ukrainian resistance

(CNN) Vladimir Putin has visited Russian-occupied Mariupol in an apparently defiant move the Kremlin announced just days after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for him.

According to a Kremlin statement on Sunday, Putin was flown to Mariupol by helicopter and toured the neighborhoods by car.

It said the Russian leader had stopped to speak to residents of the city’s Nevsky district and claimed he had been invited to a resident’s home. The time of the visit was not clear.

News of the visit comes after the ICC issued arrest warrants for Putin and Russian official Maria Lvova-Belova on Friday over an alleged plot to deport Ukrainian children to Russia.

The visit is likely to be seen as particularly provocative by Ukrainians, as Mariupol, long a symbol of resistance, has seen some of the most intense fighting since Russia launched its offensive last year.

According to the Kremlin, Putin also explored the coast of Mariupol while visiting a yacht club and a theater building.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin spoke to Putin in detail about the “ongoing construction and renovation works” in the city.

The Kremlin added that Putin held the meeting at the command post of the special military operation in Rostov-on-Don.

Putin heard reports from Chief of Staff – First Deputy Defense Minister Valery Gerasimov and several military leaders, the statement continued.

Mariupol, a port city on the Sea of ​​Azov, is located in Ukraine’s Donetsk region and has been under direct Russian control since May 2022.

In Mariupol, Russian forces carried out some of their most notorious attacks, including an attack on a maternity ward last March and the bombing of a theater that forced hundreds of civilians to seek shelter.

Mariupol became a symbol of Ukrainian resistance during weeks of Russian aggression last year. Famously, although most of the city had fallen, its defenders held on to the Azovstal Steel Works for weeks before the fortress finally fell.

Defense analysts previously told CNN that Russian forces were trying to flatten Mariupol to make the city “easier to control.”

Of the 450,000 people who lived in the city before the war, more than a third have already left.

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