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Polish plane crash drives no wedge between Russians and Poles

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Relatives and friends of those who were on board the Polish plane that crashed in Russia killing President Lech Kaczynski and many of the country's top officials have said the tragedy has not driven a wedge between the two nations as Russia mourns on Monday for the victims of the crash

Relatives and friends of those who were on board the Polish plane that crashed in Russia killing President Lech Kaczynski and many of the country's top officials have said the tragedy has not driven a wedge between the two nations as Russia mourns on Monday for the victims of the crash.

A Soviet-made TU-154 carrying a top-level delegation hit the top of trees as it attempted to land at an airport in western Russia in thick fog on Saturday morning, killing all 96 people on board.

The Polish leader and other top government officials were en route to a ceremony in Katyn to pay tribute to some 20,000 Polish officers killed by Soviet secret police during World War Two.

Russia has declared Monday to be a national day of mourning for the victims of the crash. National flags are flying at half mast across the country. The Russian government demanded that all festive events and entertainment TV shows be cancelled in Russia.

Polish citizens, who lost their loved ones in the catastrophe, have been arriving in Moscow to identify victims of the crash.

Nikita Shangin, a member of the Russian Union of Architects, told RIA Novosti his close friend Stanislaw Mikke, a deputy chief of the Polish council for the protection of the memory of WWII victims and veterans, was on board the TU-154 plane.

"I feel like I have lost a brother. He was one of the activists of the Katyn Families Association. He devoted all his time to this memory, he did everything to make the dam that separated Russians and Poles to collapse... He was a person who loved Russia, knew Russia and always separated Russia from the regime, which both Russians and Poles fell victims to," he said.

He quoted the victims' relatives and friends as saying they were pleased by the warm reception in Russia.

"I was afraid that this event would drive a wedge between us, but the Poles suggest otherwise: [they say] that they feel our solidarity, that it will bring us [Russia and Poland] together," he said.

More than 110 relatives of the deceased have already arrived in the Russian capital and another 100 are expected to arrive later in the day. A special headquarters has been set up by Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov to provide assistance to the relatives. The Russian capital has taken upon itself all the expenses for accommodating the visitors.

"She was only 22," said the mother of a stewardess who was on board the Polish plane.

Russia's relations with Poland have been hampered as of late by a range of political and historical disputes, but Saturday's tragedy appears to have brought the two nations closer to each other, paving a way towards reconciliation.

Many people have brought flowers and candles to the Polish embassy in Moscow and the consulate in Russia's exclave of Kaliningrad.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visited on Monday the Polish embassy in Moscow to lay flowers in front of a photo of the late Kaczynski and his wife.

Many other top Russian officials, including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, arrived at the embassy to pay tribute to the victims of the tragedy.

MOSCOW, April 12 (RIA Novosti) 

 

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