A Piece of Heaven
Russian President Vladimir Putin makes surprise trip to Donbass where he met residents of the new Russian territories who were happy that they have been liberated
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s surprise visit to the Donbass region was largely “spontaneous” and effectively turned into a full-fledged “working trip,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov revealed on Sunday.
The overnight trip was the first time Putin has visited Donbass since it broke away from Ukraine in 2014. it was eventually incorporated into Russia following referendums last year.
During Putin’s stay in the city of Mariupol, he met locals and visited flats in a newly constructed residential building. The city was the scene of intense fighting early in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine and ended up being heavily damaged in the process.
“Initially, the plan was only to visit this residential complex, and, of course, neither meeting the citizens, nor paying them a visit [in their homes] was planned. It was all entirely spontaneous,” Peskov told reporters.
The visit turned into a “full-fledged working trip” for the president, Peskov continued, as Putin was briefed by Deputy PM Marat Khusnullin, who accompanied him during the visit, on the restoration process ongoing in the city. In particular, the Russian leader was told about “the development of the urban economy, roads, the restoration of destroyed buildings, how many people are working, how working conditions are provided, how building materials are delivered,” the spokesman explained.
In a newly rebuilt apartment Russian President Vladimir Putin visits Mariupol, Donetsk Peoples Republic in this still image taken from handout video released on March 19, 2023. Kremlin.ru/Handout via REUTERS
Putin’s trip to Mariupol took place in darkness. State TV showed him at the wheel of a car, driving through the city in the company of his deputy prime minister, Khusnullin, and being briefed in detail on the rebuilding of housing, bridges, hospitals, transport routes and a concert hall.
State media said he visited a new residential neighbourhood that had been built by Russian military with the first people moving in last September.
“Do you live here? Do you like it?” Putin was shown asking residents.
“Very much. It’s a little piece of heaven that we have here now,” a woman replied, clasping her hands and thanking Putin for “the victory.”
Residents have been actively returning, Khusnullin told Putin. Mariupol had a population of half a million people before the war and was home to the Azovstal steel plant, one of Europe’s largest, where Ukrainian fighters held out for weeks in underground tunnels and bunkers before being forced to surrender.
Russian servicemen ride atop a T-90M tank. © Sputnik/Alexey Maishev
After his Mariupol visit, Putin proceeded to the city of Rostov-on-Don, where he met with Russia’s top military brass at a command-and-control center in charge of the military operation in Ukraine.
The visit to the command post had not been planned in advance either, Peskov said, adding that the president’s arrival was not an issue given that the facility operates around the clock.
“Neither the presidential administration, nor the Ministry of Defense planned it in advance,” the spokesman stated. During the trip, Putin “heard reports” from a number of top military commanders, including from the chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov and also gave his own “assessments of the situation,” Peskov added.