24th September 2023 – (Kyiv) In an attempt to mend fences with Poland, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky awarded two Polish humanitarian volunteers while returning from his trip to the United States and Canada late on Saturday.
Poland had been a staunch ally of Ukraine during the initial stages of the Russian invasion. However, the conservative and nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party, which currently governs Poland, has taken a surprisingly tough stance against its war-torn neighbour in recent days. This shift in attitude is largely attributed to the upcoming election on 15th October.
Warsaw has imposed a ban on agricultural imports from Ukraine, a move aimed at protecting Polish farmers who play a crucial role in the ruling party’s electoral prospects. Kyiv, on the other hand, considers this protectionist action illegal and has lodged a complaint with the World Trade Organisation. To add to the tension, Poland announced that it would no longer provide arms to Ukrainian forces fighting against the Russians.
Zelensky has been cautious about getting involved in Polish electoral politics and has instead emphasized the importance of fostering direct relations between ordinary citizens of both countries. Marcin Przydacz, the head of international policy at the presidency, clarified that Zelensky’s visit to Poland was merely a transit stop on his way back to Kyiv, and he did not engage in any political meetings.
During his visit, Zelensky presented awards to two Poles who have made significant contributions to assisting Ukraine. Journalist Bianka Zalewska from the U.S.-owned television network TVN was recognized for providing humanitarian aid to Ukrainians and transporting wounded children to Polish hospitals. Combat medic Damian Duda received an award for organising medical teams to treat injured soldiers near the front line and establishing a fund to support medics and provide them with training.
Expressing his gratitude, Zelensky took to the platform formerly known as Twitter, saying, “I would like to thank all of Poland for their invaluable support and solidarity, which helps to defend the freedom of our entire Europe!”
Duda, speaking to Onet, explained that he was awarded the presidential order “For Meritorious Service” Third Class for his work as a battlefield medic since 2014. “I work in the Ukrainian trenches, saving Ukrainian soldiers,” he said. “Our work is voluntary, our work is cost-free, and I am glad that risking our lives to help another human being has been noticed by President Zelenskyy,” Duda added.
Zelensky’s gesture aims to emphasize the significance of mutual support and solidarity between Ukraine and Poland, transcending political disputes and focusing on the well-being of the people.