Prince William Makes Surprise Poland Trip to 'Look into the Eyes' of Those Helping Ukraine and 'Say Thank You'
The Prince of Wales traveled to two military bases on Wednesday and then visited with some women and children refugees from the war-torn country"
Prince William made a surprise trip to Poland on Wednesday to thank the people for their "humanity and hospitality" during the ongoing crisis in neighboring Ukraine.
The Prince of Wales, 40, spent Wednesday afternoon with troops from Britain and Poland, who are helping to train Ukrainian forces. He then headed to Warsaw to meet some of the 300 Ukrainian women and children, who — as recently-arrived refugees — are being housed in a converted office block.
It is the first time Prince William has visited Poland since 2017 when he toured the country with his wife, Kate Middleton, and children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte. (The couple welcomed their third child, Prince Louis, in 2018.)
Aides point out that Prince William and Princess Kate have followed the Ukrainian crisis since the beginning and have had an ongoing dialogue with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and first lady Olena Zelenska.
"But he wanted to look into the eyes of the Polish people and say thank you for everything they have done. That is the main message he was putting across to the Polish and British military," a spokesman tells PEOPLE.
Upon landing in Warsaw, Prince William said it was "fantastic" to be back in Poland.
"Our nations have strong ties. Through our cooperation in support of the people of Ukraine and their freedom, which are also our freedoms and yours, these ties are further strengthened," he said. "I'm here because I want to personally thank the Polish and British troops working in close and crucial partnership. I also want to pay tribute to the inspiring humanity of the Polish people. You have opened your hearts as much as your homes."
During Prince William's visits to the military, near Rzeszow in the southeast of the country, he saw the 3rd Brigade Territorial Defence Force base that has been heavily involved in providing support to Ukraine and where British and local troops have formed close ties. He also met the Polish Defence Minister, Mariusz Blaszczak. William then headed to see the British Armed Forces located nearby. The area is at the fulcrum of where allies from the U.S., U.K. and around the world provide artillery and weapons to the defenders over the border.
Prince William told the troops, "Thank you for hosting me today. I just wanted to come here in person to say 'thank you' for all you are doing — keeping everyone safe out here and keeping an eye on what's going on."
"Just a big thank you for what you do on a day-to-day basis," he added. "I know some of you are coming to the end of your time out here. So looking forward to a bit of 'R and R' when you get home. You are doing a really important job out here and defending our freedoms is really important and everyone back home thoroughly supports you. And everything you are doing with the Poles and our Polish counterparts in providing that safety is really important. Lovely to meet you and good luck."
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In the capital city of Warsaw, the Prince of Wales focused on the tragedy of those displaced by the conflict at an accommodation center in an office block, where a charity gives people a room and a bed and provides younger people with education support. There is also a free shop where they can get clothes and hygiene and sanitary products.
On Thursday, the Prince of Wales will pay his respects to the country's war dead at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and have talks with the Polish President Andrzej Duda at the Presidential Palace. There, he will "give thanks to the Polish for their humanity and hospitality over the past year and also underline the special relationship that the U.K. has with Poland and celebrate the Polish diaspora who are in the United Kingdom."
He will also see how refugees who have been in Poland for about a year, since the start of the crisis, are being supported and have settled in the country. He will visit a food hall in Warsaw, where he'll chat with groups of young Ukrainians who have found employment or are continuing their studies in Poland.
The visit to President Duda and Prince William's desire to go to witness how the military is faring in a conflict taking place in a three-hour-long flight from London is very much a sign of his burgeoning role on the world stage. The royal was already doing this before his grandmother Queen Elizabeth died in September, but it has taken on a greater significance now that he is first in line to the throne.
"This is a continuation of the evolution of his role as a global statesperson," his spokesman adds. "We talk often about him using his global platform for the good of the environment, via Earthshot. But this is the first opportunity for him to take a visit of this kind as Prince of Wales and, given that it is one of the biggest political issues facing every country on the planet, this is a demonstration of him growing as a statesmanlike figure."
The prince — who asked for the trip to be organized — is acutely aware that Poland has been on the "frontline of the refugee crisis" in Europe that has followed the war in its neighbor, his spokesman adds. "They have shown great humanity in opening their doors to welcome people into their homes. Given that there is such a large and vibrant Polish diaspora in the U.K., it has also brought it home just how much the Polish people have given to the Ukrainians."
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