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A residential building destroyed during the Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, May 3 2022. Picture: ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO/REUTERS
A residential building destroyed during the Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, May 3 2022. Picture: ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO/REUTERS

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin has become his country’s most senior leader to set foot in the Ukrainian southern port city of Mariupol after weeks of Russian bombardment. 

Russia claimed control of the city on the Sea of Azov on April 21 after nearly two months of siege.

But Ukrainian fighters are still holed up in the city’s vast Soviet-era Azovstal steelworks, the last holdout against Russian forces there. Ukrain’s military said on Sunday that Russia was still shelling the plant heavily.

Khusnullin, who is in charge of construction and urban development in Russia, said on Telegram he had visited Mariupol and eastern Ukrainian town of Volnovakha among other territories “liberated” by Russian forces.

“Restoration of peaceful life begins in the regions. There’s a lot of work to be done. We will help, in particular ... with providing humanitarian aid,” he wrote in a Telegram post.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin. Picture: SPUTNIK/ALEKSEY NIKOLSKYI/KREMLIN/REUTERS
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin. Picture: SPUTNIK/ALEKSEY NIKOLSKYI/KREMLIN/REUTERS

Khusnullin visited Mariupol’s commercial port, which he said should be used to bring in building materials to restore the city, according to Russian defence ministry’s TV channel Zvezda.

The port, which lies between the Crimea Peninsula seized by Moscow in 2014 and parts of eastern Ukraine taken by Russian-backed separatists that year, is important to linking up the two Russian-held territories and blocking Ukrainian exports.

The port will ship off the first cargo from Russian-backed self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic in May, its head Denis Pushilin, who accompanied Khusnullin, said on Telegram.

Moscow says it aims to disarm Ukraine and rid it of what it calls anti-Russian nationalism fomented by the West.

Ukraine and the West say Russia launched an unprovoked war, and have accused Russian forces of land grab and war crimes. Moscow denies the allegations and says it targets only military or strategic sites, not civilians. 

Reuters

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