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Zelensky and wife welcomed to Poland on rare state visit

Poland's president Andrzej Duda, left, welcomes Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky (Czarek Sokolowski/AP)
Vanessa Gera, Associated Press

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky and his wife have been welcomed with military honours in Poland at the start of a state visit.

The trip is a rare foray for Mr Zelensky out of Ukraine since Russia unleashed the war in February 2022 and is meant as a gesture of thanks to Poland for supporting Ukraine’s defence.

While it follows visits to the United States, Britain, France and Belgium, it stands out from the others because it was announced in advance without the secrecy of past visits.

It is also unusual that the president is joined by the first lady, Olena Zelenska.

Marcin Przydacz, the head of Polish president Andrzej Duda’s foreign policy office, described it as Mr Zelensky’s first visit of this kind since the war began.

Poland Russia Ukraine War
Poland’s president Andrzej Duda with his wife Agata Kornhauser-Duda welcome Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky with his wife Olena at the Presidential Palace in Warsaw (Czarek Sokolowski/AP)

Mr Duda awarded Mr Zelenskyy Poland’s oldest and highest civilian distinction, The Order of the White Eagle, saying it is given to outstanding people in Poland and in Poland’s international relations.

“We have no doubt that your attitude, together with the bravery of the nation, has saved Ukraine,” he told Mr Zelensky.

At a welcome ceremony in the courtyard of the royal palace, while Mr Duda and the two countries’ first ladies were dressed in formal attire, Mr Zelensky wore his signature dark sweatshirt and khaki trousers as a show of support for Ukraine’s troops.

The visit shines a light on Poland’s rising international role in a new security order that is emerging after Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

Poland Russia Ukraine War
Mr Zelensky lays a wreath of flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier during his visit to Warsaw (Czarek Sokolowski/AP)

Poland, a member of Nato and the European Union, is modernising its military with orders of tanks and other equipment from US and South Korean producers, while the United States has beefed up its military presence in Poland.

Warsaw has been a key ally for Ukraine since Russia’s full-scale invasion last year, also becoming a hub for humanitarian aid and weapons to move into Ukraine.

Mr Duda said his country has provided four Soviet-designed MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine, four more are in the process of being handed over and another six are being prepared.

Mr Zelensky has travelled through Poland on his other trips but until now has not made Poland the focus of one his trips.

Poland is also keen to participate in future contracts for the post-war rebuilding of Ukraine, which the World Bank has estimated could cost 411 billion dollars (£330bn).

Mr Zelensky said on Wednesday that his government would “extend a hearty welcome” to Polish businesses that want to help with Ukraine’s reconstruction, adding that he would sign agreements on the development of Ukrainian infrastructure projects during his visit.

He will meet Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, attend an economic forum focused on the reconstruction of Ukraine and meet some of the Ukrainians who have found refuge in Poland.

Poland has been a key destination for Ukrainian refugees, particularly those who want to remain close because they plan to return or want to be able to visit loved ones.

Poland Russia Ukraine War
Mr Zelensky was welcomed with military honours (Czarek Sokolowski/AP)

More than 1.5 million Ukrainians have registered with the Polish government since the war began, joining large numbers of Ukrainians who had already arrived in recent years for work.

The exact number of Ukrainians present in the country at any given moment is impossible to measure, especially with many going back and forth.

But Mr Zelensky’s visit also comes at a delicate time, with Polish farmers growing increasingly angry because Ukrainian grain that has entered Poland has created a glut, causing prices to fall.

The grain is only meant to be stored and transit through Poland to reach international markets in North Africa and the Middle East.

But farmers in Poland say the grain is instead staying in Poland, taking up space in silos and entering local markets, causing local prices to fall for the farmers. Romanian and Bulgarian farmers say they are facing the same problem.

Mr Przydacz acknowledged in comments to reporters that the issue has caused tensions and said that would be a topic of the talks on Wednesday.

The anger of the farmers is emerging as a headache for Mr Morawiecki’s government ahead of general elections in the autumn, particularly since his conservative ruling party, Law and Justice, gets much of its support in rural areas.

An hour before Mr Duda was to welcome Mr Zelensky, Poland’s agriculture minister, Henryk Kowalczyk, who has been the focus of the farmers’ anger, resigned from his post.

In Ukraine, the military authorities said Wednesday that Russian forces over the previous 24 hours had launched 47 airstrikes, three missile strikes and 42 attacks from multiple rocket launchers.

At least four civilians were killed and 16 others wounded in that period, the Ukrainian president’s office reported.


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