By VANESSA GERA and DANICA KIRKA
WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Britain’s Prince William paid tribute on Thursday to Poles who lost their lives in past wars, and expressed gratitude to the nation for what it is doing today to provide humanitarian and military support to Ukraine.
The heir to the throne’s visit to Poland underscores Britain’s support for both Ukraine and Poland, an ally on the front line of efforts to help refugees displaced by Russia’s war and to assist the Ukrainian military in fighting off the invasion.
William laid a wreath in Poland’s national colors, white and red, at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and bowed his head solemnly. The memorial honors Poles who lost their lives in wars including World War II, when Polish and British soldiers were allies.
A note on the wreath that he left read: “In memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
He later headed to the presidential palace for a meeting with President Andrzej Duda, who has been a prominent ally of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine more than a year ago. Duda’s office said their talks focused on humanitarian aid for Ukraine.
“The Prince of Wales thanked the Poles for their generosity and hospitality,” Duda’s office said.
In the final stop on his two-day visit, the prince then went to a trendy food hall where he met with young Ukrainians working or continuing their studies in Poland.
William began his surprise visit Wednesday by meeting with British and Polish troops in Rzeszow, a city of 200,000 people in southeastern Poland that has become a hub for shipments of military and humanitarian aid bound for Ukraine.
“I just wanted to come here in person to say thank you for all that you’re doing, keeping everyone safe out here and keeping an eye on what’s going on,″ William said as he spoke to the troops.
He later traveled to a center in Warsaw that houses about 300 recent arrivals from Ukraine, meeting Ukrainians and playing table tennis with children.
The U.K. has been one of the most outspoken supporters of bolstering NATO’s eastern flank in the face of Russia’s aggression. The country sent troops to Poland and the Baltic states and provided more than 2.3 billion pounds ($2.8 billion) of military aid to Ukraine. It also has pledged 220 million pounds ($269 million) of humanitarian assistance.
Deploying the popular 40-year-old prince, a military veteran who also worked as a civilian air-sea rescue pilot, offers a more personal touch. While British political leaders have visited Poland regularly to trumpet their support for NATO and the Ukrainian cause, a senior royal like William is a symbol of the nation who can thank military personnel for their service without the baggage of party politics.
Kirka contributed from London.