Thursday September 28th, 2023 1:23AM

Zelenskyy visits Poland to thank ally and meet Ukrainians

By The Associated Press

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Military honors, tributes and praise welcomed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his wife to Poland on Wednesday as the couple made a state visit meant as a gesture of thanks for the crucial support the neighboring country has provided to Ukraine's defense against Russia's invasion.

The visit to Warsaw was a rare wartime foray out of Ukraine for Zelenskyy. While he also traveled to the United States, Britain, France and Belgium, the trip to Poland stood out because it was announced in advance and undertaken without the secrecy of past foreign trips.

It was also the first time that Zelenskyy and first lady Olena Zelenska traveled abroad together since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, according to Marcin Przydacz, the head of Polish President Andrzej Duda’s foreign policy office.

Duda awarded Zelenskyy Poland’s oldest and highest civilian distinction, The Order of the White Eagle, explaining that 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,” the Polish president told Zelenskyy.

At a welcome ceremony in the courtyard of the royal palace, Duda and the two countries’ first ladies were dressed in formal attire, while Zelenskyy wore the military-style sweatshirt and khaki trousers that became his uniform after Russia invaded Ukraine.

The Ukrainian's leader's trips to London, Paris and Brussels in February were part of his push for warplanes and for his country admission to the European Union and NATO, and his visit to Washington in December was intended to shore up U.S. political support.

Zelenskyy traveled through Poland on his previous foreign trips, but until now had not made Poland his sole destination. The purpose of the journey to Warsaw was primarily to thank a country that has been an international cheerleader for Ukraine, as well as a safe haven for Ukrainian refugees and a transit hub for Ukraine-bound humanitarian aid and weapons.

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

Poland, a European Union and NATO member located on the Western alliance's eastern flank, feels especially threatened by Russia and has been one of the leading advocates for providing military aid to the government in Kyiv. Poland used to be a satellite of the Soviet Union.

The visit highlighted the central European nation's rising role in a new international security order that has emerged from Russia's war in Ukraine. Poland is seeking to modernize its military by purchasing tanks and other equipment from U.S. and South Korean producers. The United States has also beefed up its military presence in Poland.

Poland is also keen to participate in future contracts for the postwar rebuilding of Ukraine, which the World Bank has estimated could cost $411 billion.

Zelensky said 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.

Zelenskyy was also to meet with 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.

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 Zelenskyy’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. Romanian and Bulgarian farmers say they are facing the same problem.

Przydacz, the head of the Polish president's foreign policy office, 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 Morawiecki's government ahead of general elections in the fall, particularly since his conservative ruling party, Law and Justice, gets much of its support in rural areas.

An hour before Duda was to welcome Zelenskyy, 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.

___ Associated Press Writer Yuras Karmanau in Tallinn, Estonia, contributed to this report. ___ Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at

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