WARSAW — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tried to rebuild bridges with Poland late on Saturday, seeking to take the sting out of a political dispute with Warsaw by giving awards to two Polish humanitarian volunteers on his way back from a trip to the U.S. and Canada.

Although Poland was a die-hard ally of Ukraine in the early days of the Russian invasion, the conservative, nationalist government of the Law and Justice (PiS) party has taken an unexpectedly hard line against its war-torn neighbor in the past days, largely for reasons related to the impending election on October 15.

In order to protect Polish farmers — crucial to the ruling party’s electoral prospects next month — Warsaw has blocked agricultural imports from Ukraine, in a protectionist move that Kyiv says is illegal and has referred to the World Trade Organization. Amid this dispute over food products, Warsaw made the shock announcement it would no longer send arms to Ukrainian forces fighting the Russians.

Over recent days, Zelenskyy has been keen to avoid venturing into Polish electoral politics, but has instead tried to play up the importance of direct relations between ordinary Poles and Ukrainians. In that vein, Marcin Przydacz, head of the office of international policy at the presidency, told the Onet news platform that Zelenskyy had simply visited Poland in transit on his way home to Kyiv and had not met politicians.

Instead, Zelenskyy presented decorations to two Poles involved in helping Ukraine. Zelenskyy said journalist Bianka Zalewska from the U.S.-owned television network TVN had helped provide humanitarian aid to Ukrainians and transport wounded children to Polish hospitals. Combat medic Damian Duda had gathered teams to treat wounded soldiers near the front line and set up a fund to assist medics and provide them with training, he said.

“I would like to thank all of Poland for their invaluable support and solidarity, which helps to defend the freedom of our entire Europe!” Zelenskyy said on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

Duda explained to Onet that he was awarded the presidential order “For Meritorious Service” Third Class for his work since 2014 as a battlefield medic.

“I work in the Ukrainian trenches, saving Ukrainian soldiers,” he said. “I was there until the end [of the Ukrainian defense] in Bakhmut, in Soledar, in Zaporizhzhia,” 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,” the medic said.

Kamil Turecki is a journalist with Poland’s Onet, a sister publication of POLITICO, also owned by Axel Springer.





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