Putin makes surprise trip to Russian-held Mariupol

STORY: President Vladimir Putin made a surprise visit to the Russian-occupied Ukrainian city of Mariupol, scene of some of the worst devastation of his year-old invasion.

This was the closest Putin has got to the frontlines and it looked like a gesture of defiance -

coming a day after the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for his arrest.

The ICC accused him of the war crime of deporting hundreds of children from Ukraine.

State television aired footage of Putin being shown around the port city on Saturday night (March 18) by Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin - meeting rehoused residents and being briefed on reconstruction.

Mariupol became a byword for death and destruction. Much of it was reduced to ruins in the first months of the war and it fell to Russian forces in May.

Hundreds were killed in the bombing of a theater where families with children were sheltering.

Moscow has said since it invaded last February that it does not target civilians.

This was Putin's first visit to the Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine's Donbas region since the war started.

He went there by helicopter following a visit to Crimea on the ninth anniversary of its annexation by Russia from Ukraine.

The Kremlin released video on Sunday (March 19) showing Putin back in Russia after his trip and meeting the top command of the Ukraine military operation.

The Russian president has not publicly commented on the ICC warrant, but his spokesman called it legally "null and void".