Russia and the European Union mark an official day of mourning on Monday as Poland observes a week of commemoration following the deaths of President Lech Kaczynski, the first lady, and dozens of senior Polish leaders and military officials in a plane crash in Russia on Saturday.
Poland began a week of national mourning on Sunday as Kaczynski’s body arrived in the capital, Warsaw, from the Russian town of Smolensk, near where the presidential plane crashed. His flag-draped coffin was met by acting President Bronislaw Komorowski and Prime Minister Donald Tusk. Also on the tarmac were Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the president's twin brother and a former prime minister, and Marta Kacyznski, the only child of the president and his wife, Maria, who also perished in the crash and whose body was identified on Monday.
After a short religious ceremony, the coffin was driven under military escort to the presidential palace, where it will lie in state from Tuesday.
"The people of Warsaw have lined the road heading back from the military airport into the centre of town, where the presidential palace is [located],” FRANCE 24's special correspondent in Warsaw, Gulliver Cragg, reported on Sunday. He described Poland as a "nation in shock".
The remains of the other 95 victims of the crash will be sent to Moscow for identification, Russian officials said.
World leaders have expressed shock and sorrow over Poland’s loss. In a gesture of solidarity with Poland, Russia and the European Union declared Monday to be a day of official mourning.
The tragic irony of the crash, which occurred while the country’s president and top officials were on their way to commemorating the Katyn massacre of more than 20,000 Polish nationals by Russian forces during World War Two, was not lost on many Poles. Now marking its single worst tragedy since that war, Poland mourns two national catastrophes that took place on Russian soil.
Poland observed a two-minute silence on Sunday to honour the president and the others who died, including General Franciszek Gagor, the chief of Poland's armed forces; central bank governor Slawomir Skrzypek; the deputy foreign minister, Andrzej Kremer; deputy defence minister Stanislaw Jerzy Komorowski and several members of parliament.
Thousands gathered at the presidential palace and nearby Pilsudski Square in central Warsaw on Sunday amid a sea of candles, wreaths and flowers as a hush descended across the East European nation.
Reporting from Warsaw, FRANCE 24’s Cyril Vanier said thousands of ordinary Poles kept arriving at the presidential palace and square throughout the night to lay wreaths and light candles. “What you can see here is a testimony to the deep, deep feeling of solidarity here in Poland. Each candle lit represents one Pole who decided to come here and show his or her solidarity,” said Vanier. “There is a very strong sense of togetherness here again today.”
The 60-year-old Kaczynski was a committed anti-Communist who advocated a right-wing agenda under his Catholic Law and Justice party. He favoured strong ties with the United States and supported Poland hosting a US missile defence system, a move vehemently opposed by Russia.
"I want good relations with Moscow but Russia has to recognise that Poland is no longer in its sphere of influence," he had said.
Kaczynski is survived by his daughter and two grandchildren.