Putin Makes Surprise Visit to Occupied Ukraine

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia traveled to Mariupola surprise visit to the Ukrainian city that was the scene of one of the bloodiest battles since Russia invaded last year, and the closest the Russian leader has come to the front in the east.

Putin flew in by helicopter from Crimea and then toured Mariupol in the eastern Donetsk province, according to the state-run Tass news on Sunday.

It was Putin’s second unannounced trip to Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine over the weekend, and was the closest the Russian leader has come to the front lines in the past year. His Saturday trip to Crimea was timed to coincide with the ninth anniversary of Russia’s illegal annexation of the peninsula. The two high-profile visits were also defiant gestures by the Kremlin less than 48 hours after an international court issued an arrest warrant for him.

For months last year, Russia sent thousands of troops into Mariupol, home to Europe’s largest steel plant, indiscriminately shelling the city, once home to nearly half a million people. Outnumbered and with increasingly less sophisticated weapons, the Ukrainian military held on, eventually taking refuge in the city’s steel mill. Ultimately, the Ukrainian forces withdrew, leaving the devastated city under Russian control.

The report by state media outlet Tass referred to the surprise stop as “a business trip” for Putin to review construction and restoration work in the city.