Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the occupied city of Mariupol on Monday, a move that has been met with criticism by some international leaders due to the city’s contested status.
Putin, whose visit was the first by a Russian president since the city was annexed by pro-Russia separatists in 2014, was greeted warmly by local residents and members of the separatist-backed government.
The visit was part of a broader tour of separatist-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine, which Russia has backed since the 2014 revolution that overthrew the previous pro-Russian government.
The tour has been seen by many as an attempt by Moscow to demonstrate its continued influence in the region, and its commitment to the separatist cause.
The visit has also been criticized by some international leaders, including Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who has argued that the trip legitimizes Russia’s occupation of the city and its involvement in the conflict.
The United States has also condemned the visit, arguing that it sends a “dangerous signal” to the international community that Russia is not interested in finding a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
In spite of the criticism, Putin’s visit appears to have been well-received by local residents, who greeted him warmly and praised his commitment to the separatist cause.
The visit comes at a time of increasing tension between Russia and Ukraine, as the two countries remain locked in a stalemate over the conflict in the region.
The Kremlin has sought to portray the visit as a sign of Russian support for the people of Mariupol, and of a commitment to finding a peaceful solution to the conflict.
However, many remain skeptical of Putin’s intentions and the lasting impact of his visit.