President Vladimir Putin has made a surprise trip to war-ravaged Mariupol, the Kremlin said Sunday, in what marks his first trip to the Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine's Donbas region since the start of the war. Ukraine promptly slammed the visit, describing the Russian leader as "the murderer of thousands of Mariupol families". The trip came after Putin visited Crimea on Saturday to mark the ninth anniversary of Russia's annexation of the peninsula. Read about the day's events as they unfolded on our liveblog. All times are Paris time (GMT+1).
9:38pm: Putin hails China's willingness to help settle Ukraine conflict
President Vladimir Putin on Sunday welcomed China's willingness to play a "constructive role" in ending the conflict in Ukraine, saying Sino-Russian relations were "at the highest point" in history.
His Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping heads to Russia on Monday hoping to deliver a breakthrough on Ukraine as Beijing seeks to position itself as a peacemaker.
The quality of ties between Moscow and Beijing is "higher than the political and military unions of the Cold War era", Putin said in an article written for a Chinese newspaper and published by the Kremlin on the eve of Xi's visit.
5:09pm: Three civilians killed in Russian shelling of Zaporizhzhia region
Three civilians were killed and two wounded in Russian shelling of a residential building in the southern Ukrainian region of Zaporizhzhia on Sunday, regional officials said.
The region's military administration said Russian troops fired grad rockets at the small village of Kamyanske, which had a pre-war population of some 2,600 people.
The authorities warned residents in the region that the danger of shelling was constant near the front lines and urged them to evacuate.
1:45pm: Ukraine says Putin a 'criminal returning to crime scene' of his Mariupol visit
Mykhaylo Podolyak, an aide to Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky, has slammed Vladimir Putin's surprise trip to the port city of Mariupol.
"The criminal always returns to the crime scene... the murderer of thousands of Mariupol families came to admire the ruins of the city and (its) graves. Cynicism and lack of remorse," Podolyak said on Twitter.
1:10pm: South Africa walking diplomatic tight-rope on potential Putin visit
South Africa is aware of its legal obligation, a spokesperson for President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Sunday, referring to a proposed visit by Vladimir Putin after an international court issued an arrest warrant against the Russian leader.
Russian President Putin is expected to visit South Africa in August to attend a BRICS summit, though the trip has not been confirmed yet.
A visit by Putin would place Ramaphosa's government, which has not condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in a precarious position after the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Friday.
"We note the report on the warrant of arrest that the ICC has issued," Magwenya said. "It remains South Africa's commitment and very strong desire that the conflict in Ukraine is resolved peacefully through negotiations."
11:55am: Mariupol's exiled city council blasts visit by 'criminal' Putin
The exiled city council of Ukraine's Mariupol has blasted Vladimir Putin's purported visit to the ravaged port city that fell under Moscow's control last year after a long siege.
"The international criminal Putin visited occupied Mariupol. He watched the 'rebuilding of the city'... at night. Probably in order not to see the city, killed by his 'liberation', in the light of day," the city council said on its Telegram account.
9:45am: Putin's 'provocative' response to ICC arrest warrant
President Vladimir Putin's purported visit to the Ukrainian city of Mariupol is a "provocation" aimed at both the international community and Ukraine, with it coming just two days after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for the Russian leader, says FRANCE 24's Emmanuelle Chaze, reporting from Kyiv.
8:35am: Mariupol residents 'actively' returning to the city, Russia claims
Mariupol residents are "actively" returning to the war-ravaged city, Russian press agencies have quoted Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin as saying, adding that Khusnullin accompanied Putin on his visit.
Mariupol had a population of half a million people before the war and is home to the Azovstal steel plant, one of Europe's largest and the site of a protracted siege last year.
"The downtown has been badly damaged," Khusnullin said. "We want to finish (reconstruction) of the centre by the end of the year, at least the facade part. The centre is very beautiful."
Putin visited a family in the Nevsky district of Mariupol, Russian media reported. The new residential neighbourhood has been built by the Russian military with the first people moving in last September.
There was also no immediate reaction to the visit from Kyiv.
5:15am: Putin visits Mariupol after Crimea trip, Kremlin says
President Vladimir Putin made a surprise visit to Mariupol, Russian state media report, in what would be the Kremlin leader's first trip to the Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine's Donbas region since the start of the war.
The visit came after Putin travelled to Crimea on Saturday in an unannounced visit to mark the ninth anniversary of Russia's annexation of the peninsula from Ukraine, and just two days after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for the Russian leader.
Mariupol, which fell to Russia in May after one of the war's longest and bloodiest battles, was Russia's first major victory after it failed to seize Kyiv and focused instead on southeastern Ukraine.
Putin flew by helicopter to Mariupol, Russian new agencies reported citing the Kremlin. It is the closest to the front lines Putin has been since in the year-long war. Driving a car, Putin travelled around several districts of the city, making stops and talking to residents.
Mariupol, on the Sea of Azov, was reduced to a smouldering shell after weeks of fighting. The Organization for Security and Cooperation and Europe (OSCE) said Russia's early bombing of a maternity hospital in Mariupol was a war crime.
01:20am: Black Sea grain deal extended for at least 60 days
A deal allowing the safe Black Sea export of Ukrainian grain was renewed late on Saturday for at least 60 days - half the intended period - after Russia warned any further extension beyond mid-May would depend on the removal of some Western sanctions.
The pact was brokered with Russia and Ukraine by the United Nations and Turkey in July and renewed for a further 120 days in November. The aim was to combat a global food crisis triggered by Russia's invasion of Ukraine and Black Sea blockade.
The deal had been set to expire on Saturday.
The United Nations and Turkey said the deal had been extended, but did not specify for how long. Ukraine said it had been extended for 120 days. But Russia's cooperation is needed and Moscow only agreed to renew the pact for 60 days.
"The Black Sea Grain Initiative, alongside the Memorandum of Understanding on promoting Russian food products and fertilizers to the world markets, are critical for global food security, especially for developing countries," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.
10:07am: Ukraine still able to resupply troops in battered Bakhmut, army says
Ukrainian forces outside the battered eastern city of Bakhmut are managing to keep Russian units at bay so ammunition, food, equipment and medicines can be delivered to defenders, the army said on Saturday.
And in the latest claim to have inflicted heavy casualties, Kyiv said its troops had killed 193 Russians and injured 199 others during the course of fighting on Friday.
Russia has made the capture of Bakhmut a priority in its strategy to take control of Ukraine's eastern Donbas industrial region. The city has been largely destroyed in months of fighting, with Russia launching repeated assaults.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP & Reuters)
Originally published on France24