Russia-Ukraine war live: Putin visits Mariupol in first trip to occupied eastern Ukraine, says Russian state media

Vladimir Putin made a surprise visit to Mariupol, Russian state media reported on Sunday, in the Kremlin leader’s first trip to the Russian-occupied territories of eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region since the start of the war.

Reuters reported that 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 a warrant for his arrest.

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 south-eastern Ukraine.

Putin flew by helicopter to Mariupol, Russian news agencies reported, citing the Kremlin. It is the closest to the frontlines Putin has been in the year-long war. Driving a car, Putin travelled around several districts of the city in the Donetsk region, making stops and talking to residents.

Vladimir Putin, centre, during his visit to Sevastopol, Crimea, on Saturday

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation and Europe said Russia’s early bombing of a maternity hospital in Mariupol was a war crime.

The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has made a number of trips to the battlefield to boost troop morale and discuss strategy, but Putin has largely remained inside Russia during the war.

Russian media reported on Sunday that Putin also met with the top command of his military operation in Ukraine, including Valery Gerasimov, chief of the general staff.

A tweet from Ukraine’s ministry of defence providing an update on a six-year-old girl injured during the conflict.

russians not only kidnap, but also kill and mutilate Ukrainian children.
Surgeons at Kyiv’s Okhmatdyt Children’s Hospital performed the first surgery in Ukraine on a child who sustained injuries from a russian attack. 6 y.o. Maryna was injured by a russian projectile in May 2022.

— Defense of Ukraine (@DefenceU) March 19, 2023

In response to president Putin’s surprise visit to Mariupol, an adviser to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the visit to the city was tantamount to a perpetrator returning to the scene of the crime.

“The criminal always returns to the crime scene,” Mykhailo Podolyak wrote on Twitter.

“As the civilized world announces the arrest of the ‘war director’ (VV Putin) in case of crossing its borders, the murderer of thousands of Mariupol families came to admire the ruins of the city & graves. Cynicism & lack of remorse.”

Russian president, Vladimir Putin, listens to deputy prime minister, Marat Khusnullin, who heads construction and regional development, as he visits Mariupol, Russian-controlled Ukraine.
Russian president, Vladimir Putin, drives as he visits Mariupol, Russian-controlled Ukraine, in this still image taken from a handout video.

Three civilians have been killed and another two injured by Russian shelling of a village in Zaporizhzhia, according to posts on the regional military administration’s Telegram.

It says that a residential building in the village of Kamyanske in Vasylivka district was targeted in a “cynical attack”. The post warned residents to leave danger areas.

Ukrinform reports that in the last 24 hours there have been 10 reports of Russian shelling of residential homes and infrastructure.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic at a news conference in Belgrade on Sunday

Serbia’s president has attacked the decision to issue an international arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin, saying it will only prolong the war in Ukraine.

The warrant was issued on Friday by the international criminal court, and accuses Putin of war crimes, giving him personal responsibility for the abduction of Ukrainian children during the invasion.

AP reports that Serbian president, Aleksandar Vučić, who has previously boasted of his personal relationship with the Russian leader, told reporters in Belgrade on Sunday:

I think issuing an arrest warrant for Putin, not to go into legal matters, will have bad political consequences and it says that there is a great reluctance to talk about peace (and) about truce.”

Do you really think that it is possible to defeat Russia in a month, three months or a year? There is no doubt that the goal of those who did this is to make it difficult for Putin to communicate, so that everyone who talks to him is aware that he is accused of war crimes.

The daily nightmare Ukrainian frontline troops face from Russians attempts to advance and the generational hole the mounting losses will leave behind – spelled out by the death of headteacher Viktor Shulik in Bakhmut w/ @sia_vlasova

— Isobel Koshiw (@IKoshiw) March 19, 2023

My colleagues Isobel Koshiw and Anastasia Vlasova have told the heartbreaking story of headteacher Viktor Shulik and his son Denys from Bakhmut

But Viktor and Denys didn’t just want to run – they wanted to fight. They were not the only ones in Popasna. At least 16 former pupils of Viktor’s school signed up and are currently serving in Ukraine’s army. At 57, however, Viktor – who had some military training but was too old to join the regular army – and Denys – who had no military experience – said they had wanted to stay together “as that way it would be less scary”. So on 6 March, Valentyna walked Viktor and Denys to the military recruitment office for Ukraine’s territorial defence forces, a sort of home army, in Bakhmut. Six months later, Viktor would be dead.

Ukraine’s armed forces have released their latest estimate for war casualties, although we cannot verify them.

Ukraine’s army now claims to have killed 164,910 Russian troops since the start of the war. Of these, they say 710 were killed in the 24 hours to Sunday morning.

They also report destroying eight Russian artillery systems since Saturday.

Загальні бойові втрати противника з 24.02.22 по 19.03.23 орієнтовно склали / The total combat losses of the enemy from 24.02.22 to 19.03.23 were approximately:

— Генеральний штаб ЗСУ (@GeneralStaffUA) March 19, 2023

Vincent Magwenya, South African presidential spokesman, at the South African parliament in Cape Town in December 2022.

South Africa has said it is aware of its legal obligations relating to Vladimir Putin’s international arrest warrant ahead of his planned visit to the country in August, Reuters reports.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s spokesman, Vincent Magwenya, said on Sunday: “We are, as the government, cognisant of our legal obligation. However, between now and the summit we will remain engaged with various relevant stakeholders.”

Putin is expected to visit South Africa in August for a Brics summit, when Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa hold talks.

South Africa has not condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but the ruling by the international court puts them in a tricky spot after the arrest warrant issued by the international criminal court (ICC) on Friday.

“We note the report on the warrant of arrest that the ICC has issued,” Magwenya said. “It remains South Africa’s commitment and very strong desire that the conflict in Ukraine is resolved peacefully through negotiations.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov at the Russia-ASEAN summit in Sochi

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said that last week’s US drone strikes over the Black Sea are a sign of direct American involvement in the conflict with Russia.

The taking down of a US drone by Russian fighter planes on Tuesday was the first known direct military encounter between the two sides since the war began.

According to Reuters, Interfax quotes Peskov saying in a television interview on Sunday:

It is quite obvious what these drones are doing, and their mission is not at all a peaceful mission to ensure the safety of shipping in international waters.

And in fact, we are talking about the direct involvement of the operators of these drones in the conflict, and against us.

An earlier version of this post wrongly stated the location of the drone strike due to an agency error. It was over the Black Sea.

Some more details on the footage of Putin in Mariupol.

Among the social media videos posted he is is seen in a black jeep driving through the streets of Mariupol accompanied by Marat Khusnullin, a top Russian official.

Khusnullin is talking about “rebuilding” of the city by the Russian state.

Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister made the claim residents had been coming back to Mariupol due to to Russia’s efforts to rebuild the city. This has not been verified.

He said:

People have started to come back. When they saw that reconstruction is under way, people started actively returning.

Khusnullin claimed that rebuilding the heavily damaged city centre – which was decimated by Russian shelling – would be finished by the end of the year, without providing evidence.

He claimed that the destruction in Mariupol, which was heavily shelled by Russia, had been caused by retreating Ukrainian forces. This has also not been verified.

In the video where Putin is shown speaking to people – who Russian state TV claimed were local residents – they can be heard saying that they are “praying for him” and thanking Russia for rebuilding their apartments after their homes were destroyed. There has been no confirmation that the residents were indeed Mariupol citizens.

Ukrainian officials have said at least 22,000 of Mariupol’s civilian population of half a million died in the siege by Russian forces.

My colleague Angelique Chrisafis reports on Putin’s visit to Mariupol:

Vladimir Putin has made a surprise visit to the occupied Ukrainian port city of Mariupol in a show of defiance after the international criminal court issued an arrest warrant for him on war crimes charges.

Russian state media released footage on Sunday showing the president on what is believed to have been his first trip to Russian-occupied territories in Ukraine’s Donbas region since he launched a full-scale invasion last year.

The Tass news agency reported that Putin flew by helicopter to Mariupol on Saturday and took a tour of the city, at times driving his own car. He visited several sites and spoke with residents, and was presented with a report on reconstruction work in the city.

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Gigi Sague