The leader of a Ukrainian pro-Russia rebel group says they will rebuild the city nearly wiped off the map by Russian shelling, and it will become a resort city.
Denis Pushilin, who is head of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), made the statement on Monday following Victory Day events, the New York Post reported.
"Russia is here forever, and you are finally home," Pushilin told residents Mariupol, according to the Russian state news agency TASS.
"Now this is the territory of the Donetsk People’s Republic forever. No one will take it away from us … We have strength, we have opportunities, we have the support of the biggest beautiful country — Russia," he said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has cited his invasion of Ukraine in late February, which he calls a "special military operation," as an effort to "de-Nazify" the country. Russian soldiers were told they would be welcomed by civilians who would be happy they had arrived to save them.
But citizens in Mariupol and elsewhere defied Russian soldiers and told them no Nazis were present. Pushilin's statement on Monday seemed to ignore that fact.
"The task is to make Mariupol a resort city, which has not been possible to do before."
Pushilin said the Azovstal steel plant, where Ukrainian soldiers and 100 civilians are still holding out against Russian forces had “negatively affected the ecology of the city."
"If Azovstal is not restored, then we will make a resort town," Pushilin said, vowing to bring jobs to the city that now lies mostly in ruins.
The DPR's priority is "to liberate all of our lands" and "to start rebuilding cities," he added.
Though the Kremlin had stated there would be no celebrations in Mariupol of the Russian holiday marking the victory over Nazi Germany, Pushilin and his troops carried a nearly 1,000-foot-long black and orange ribbon of Saint George through the charred city.
"For eight long years the inhabitants of this city could not wear this symbol of courage and military glory of soldiers-liberators," Pushilin said on Telegram, saying it had been "banned by the Kyiv regime."
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