Ukraine’s Zelenskyy hails ties as Poland vows further support
Polish President Andrzej Duda says his country will supply Ukraine with a total of 14 Soviet-designed MiG-29 fighter jets.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has won new pledges of deeper cooperation on a visit to neighbouring Poland, where he thanked the country for its military support and for welcoming Ukrainian refugees.
Since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February last year, Ukraine and Poland have forged a tighter relationship, with Warsaw playing a leading role in persuading sometimes reluctant allies to provide Kyiv with heavy weaponry.
During the visit on Wednesday, Polish President Andrzej Duda said Poland would supply Ukraine with a total of 14 Soviet-designed MiG-29 fighter jets to help it beat back the Kremlin’s assault.
The former Soviet satellite that is now a member of the European Union and NATO feels especially threatened by Russia and has been a leading advocate for aid to Kyiv.
The visit to Warsaw was a rare wartime foray out of Ukraine for Zelenskyy. While he previously travelled 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 also was the first time Zelenskyy and first lady Olena Zelenska travelled abroad together since the war began, said Marcin Przydacz, head of Duda’s foreign policy office.
At a news conference with Duda, Zelenskyy said that his government would “extend a hearty welcome” to Polish businesses seeking to help Ukraine’s postwar rebuilding, which the World Bank has estimated could cost $41bn.
Zelenskyy said Poland should become a key partner in the vast reconstruction effort needed once Russia’s invasion ends. He met later with Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and said he would sign agreements on developing Ukrainian infrastructure.
Duda also awarded his Ukrainian counterpart the Order of the White Eagle, Poland’s highest honour.
“You have stood shoulder to shoulder with us, and we are grateful for it,” Zelenskyy 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.”
The visit to Poland, which has taken in more than a million Ukrainian refugees, comes as Ukraine prepares for a counteroffensive in the coming weeks or months to recapture land in its east and south from Russian forces.
Zelenskyy said on Wednesday that the situation in the Ukrainian eastern city of Bakhmut was “very, very 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 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 US-made rockets, but Duda’s foreign policy adviser Przydacz said Poland would not decide any time soon on whether to send any.
The Polish public overwhelmingly supports Ukrainians in their war with Russia. An Ipsos poll found 82 percent of Poles think NATO and European Union countries should back Ukraine until it wins.