HUDDERSFIELD’S Polish community has united in grief to mourn the tragic death of Poland’s president Lech Kaczynski.
Mr Kaczynski and his wife, Maria, were killed in a plane crash on Saturday along with dozens of senior figures from the Polish government and military.
The plane crashed as it attempted to land in heavy fog near the Russian city of Smolensk. There were no survivors.
Among the dead were Poland’s army chief of staff, the navy chief commander and heads of the air and land forces, central bank governor, MPs and leading historians.
The 96 passengers were heading to a memorial service to mark the 70th anniversary of the massacre of Katyn forest where thousands of Polish officers were killed by Soviet secret police.
Yesterday the Polish flag flew at half mast as hundreds of mourners attended Sunday mass at the Polish Church on Fitzwilliam Street.
Tonight a special memorial mass will be held at the church at 7.30pm.
Marek Hebda, chairman of the Polish parish, said the church had been full as people had already been planning to honour the dead of the Katyn massacre.
He said: “It’s a bitter irony that in remembrance of 20,000 murdered civilians we can add another 130 deaths.
“The memory will be there forever. It’s opened the world’s eyes to what happened.
“If it was just an accident for no particular reason it would be upsetting, but the fact that it’s happened on the eve of the anniversary of the Katyn massacre is particularly upsetting.”
The church has opened a book of remembrance for people to pay tribute to the victims which will later be sent to the Polish Consulate in Manchester.
And another service led by Bishop Arthur Roach from the Leeds Diocese is planned at Leeds Cathedral on Thursday, April 22, at 7pm.
The victims also included Monsignor Bronislaw Gostomski, a parish priest at St Andrew Bobola Roman Catholic Church in west London, and London-resident Ryszard Kaczorowski, Poland’s president in exile during the Communist years.
Russian media reports said the pilots ignored advice from air traffic control to divert to another airport.
Poland’s Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, was in tears when he heard the news.
The Katyn massacre has become an iconic issue for millions of Poles who regard it as the most glaring example of Russia’s historic hatred for the Polish people.
The issue is so sensitive that for decades Moscow flatly denied any involvement in the murder of 20,000 Polish military officers, politicians and artists during the Second World War, insisting that the murders were instead carried out by the Nazis.
It is only in recent years that Moscow officially admitted responsibility and President Kaczynski and his party were on their way to attend a special event to commemorate the massacre.