Ceremonies across Poland commemorate presidential plane disaster

"I have come here to pay homage to the late President Lech Kaczyński, his wife Maria and all the great Poles who died in an air crash near Smolensk 11 years ago," President Andrzej Duda said at the Wawel castle in Kraków, where the presidential couple are buried. Łukasz Gągulski/PAP

Ceremonies took place across in Poland on Saturday to commemorate the 11th anniversary of the Smolensk air disaster, which killed 96 people, including Poland's then president Lech Kaczyński, during a landing attempt on a military airfield in western Russia.

On April 10, 2010, President Lech Kaczyński, his wife, the last President of Poland in exile Ryszard Kaczorowski, and dozens of senior government officials and military commanders were killed in the air disaster. The delegation was on its way to nearby Katyn to attend events marking the 70th anniversary of the 1940 Katyn Massacre, in which close to 22,000 Polish POWs, mainly army officers, policemen and administration staff, were murdered at the hands of the Soviets.

Today's ceremonies were mostly closed to the public due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"I have come here to pay homage to the late President Lech Kaczyński, his wife Maria and all the great Poles who died in an air crash near Smolensk 11 years ago," President Andrzej Duda said at the Wawel castle in Kraków, where the presidential couple are buried.

The president stated that they had been going to Smolensk "for our homeland, for the memory of the Polish army officers murdered in Katyn by the Soviets, being guided by the sense of community.

"Let this sense of community remain as it was then, since we need it very much today," Duda said.

"The Smolensk air disaster is the greatest national tragedy in the post-war history of Poland... since it had deprived it of the most outstanding people, who are most needed," Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki wrote on Facebook, adding that it would be nearly impossible to replace them.

The prime minister, Law and Justice leader Jaroslaw Kaczyński, the twin brother of the late president, and Sejm (lower house) Speaker Elżbieta Witek, government and state officials laid wreaths at the monuments commemorating President Lech Kaczyński and the victims of the Smolensk disaster on Pilsudski Square and the Powazki military cemetery in Warsaw.

Ceremonies also took place in other cities all over Poland.

State Assets Minister Jasek Sasin declared on Saturday that a report on the Smolensk air disaster prepared by the Antoni Macierewicz investigative committee "will be published, according to my knowledge, in the near future."

"I think that it will be published in the coming days, and, surely, not months," Sasin said, adding that the tragic crash "was still dividing the Polish people."

Sasin said he was sharing the frustration of all Poles who wanted to know the causes of the disaster. He admitted it would have been much easier to seek the truth "immediately after the crash."

"But both the TU-154 presidential plane wreckage and the black boxes are still in Moscow. And they are in Moscow because the team led by the then prime minister Donald Tusk had given the Russians a tool to keep them," Sasin stated, adding that, years later, it was very difficult to investigate something which had been falsified earlier.

Poland has repeatedly asked for both the wreckage and the black boxes to be returned, but the Russian authorities claim it is impossible due to its material evidence status in the ongoing investigation in Russia.