WARSAW — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy visited neighboring Poland on Wednesday and thanked the country for its “historic” help, saying it should become a key partner in the vast reconstruction effort needed once Russia’s invasion ends.
Warsaw has positioned itself as one of Kyiv’s staunchest allies, playing a leading role in persuading sometimes reluctant allies to provide it with heavy weaponry. On Wednesday President Andrzej Duda said Poland would supply Ukraine with a total of 14 MiG-29 fighter jets.
Duda also awarded his Ukrainian counterpart the Order of the White Eagle, Poland’s highest honor.
“You have stood shoulder to shoulder with us, and we are grateful for it,” Zelenskiy said after receiving the award. “I believe that these are historic relations, a historic result, and historic strength between our countries.”
Duda said he was confident that Ukraine would emerge victorious from the conflict.
“We have no doubt that your conduct combined with the heroism of Ukrainian soldiers saved Ukraine,” he said “We have no doubt that your conduct is saving Europe from a deluge of Russian imperialism.”
Asked what Zelenskiy’s visit meant to her, Ukrainian refugee Olena, 46, gave a thumbs up before bursting into tears.
“If it weren’t for him there would be no Ukraine by now,” she said as she passed the presidential palace, adding that she was grateful to Poland for being able to stay and work in the country.
Zelenskiy, who is due to attend an economic forum later on Wednesday, invited Polish businesses to come to Ukraine before the war ends to secure a better position on Ukrainian markets as well as in the country’s reconstruction drive.
The visit to Poland, which has taken in more than a million Ukrainian refugees over the past 13 months of war, comes as Ukraine plans to conduct a counter-offensive in the coming weeks or months to recapture land in its east and south from Russia.
Zelenskiy said on Wednesday the situation in the Ukrainian eastern city of Bakhmut was really difficult and that the “corresponding decisions” would be taken if Kyiv’s troops there risk being encircled by Russian forces.
“For me, the most important is not to lose our soldiers and of course if there is a moment of even hotter events and the danger we could lose our personnel because of encirclement – of course the corresponding correct decisions will be taken by generals there,” he said.
Duda said on Wednesday that Poland is working towards getting additional security guarantees for Ukraine at a NATO summit to be held in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius on July.
In addition to MiG-29 jets, Ukraine officials have also pressed for F-16 jet fighters to boost Kyiv’s ability to hit Russian missile units with U.S.-made rockets but Duda’s foreign policy adviser Marcin Przydacz said Poland would not decide any time soon on whether to send any.
“F-16s are protecting Poland’s skies.” he said. “There are absolutely no such decisions at this stage.”
The Polish public overwhelming supports Ukrainians in their war with Russia. An Ipsos poll said 82% of Poles think NATO and European Union countries should back Ukraine until it wins.
Nonetheless, Zelenskiy’s visit takes place amid mounting anger in rural Poland over the impact of imports of Ukrainian grain, which have pushed down prices in several states in the EU’s eastern wing — something the Polish prime minister had said would come under discussion.
Tariffs on Ukrainian agricultural imports may need to be reintroduced if an influx of products pushing down prices in European Union markets cannot be halted by other means, the premiers of five eastern states said in a letter published on Friday to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
Poland’s Agriculture Minister Henryk Kowalczk resigned on Wednesday as a result of the crisis. (Reporting by Pavel Polityuk and Max Hunder in Kyiv and Alan Charlish, Pawel Florkiewicz, Marek Strzelecki and Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska in Warsaw; writing by Tom Balmforth, Michael Kahn and Alan Charlish; editing by Mark Heinrich, Lincoln Feast, Philippa Fletcher)