Ukraine's Zelenskiy stops over in Poland to award two volunteers

  • World
  • Sunday, 24 Sep 2023

FILE PHOTO: Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks, as he attends a joint press conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (not pictured) in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada September 22, 2023. REUTERS/Blair Gable/File Photo

WARSAW (Reuters) - Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy awarded two Polish volunteers state awards during a stopover on Saturday, but did not meet any officials as relations between the two countries are strained over grain imports.

Poland decided last week to extend a ban on Ukrainian grain imports, shaking Kyiv's relationship with a neighbour that has been one of its staunchest allies since Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year.

Poland's prime minister told Zelenskiy on Friday not to "insult" Poles, maintaining harsh rhetoric towards Kyiv ahead of elections on October 15. The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has been criticised by the far right for what it says is the government's subservient attitude to Ukraine.

Zelenskiy angered his neighbours when he told the United Nations General Assembly in New York that Kyiv was working to preserve land routes for grain exports, but that the "political theatre" around imports was only helping Moscow.

On Saturday, on his way back home, he handed awards to Bianka Zalewska, a journalist who helped transport wounded children to Polish hospitals, and Damian Duda, who gathered a medical team to help wounded soldiers near the front line.

Zelenskiy thanked all Poles who "from the first days opened their families, their homes, opened themselves up and helped".

"I believe that any challenges on our common path are nothing compared to the fact that there is such strength between our people".

One of the award recipients, Duda, told Reuters that Zelenskiy was very informal at the meeting like an old friend.

"For us, politics are not important, what is important to us is to help people who need it," Duda said.

The head of the Polish president's International Policy Office Marcin Przydacz told website his office did not receive any proposal for a meeting during Zelenskiy's stay in Poland.

(Reporting by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk in Warsaw, Lewis Macdonald in Gdansk and Elaine Monaghan in Washington; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

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