Anxious about refugees, Polish cities reject memorial sirens

AP Photo / Sergei Grits
People return back to Ukraine at the border crossing in Medyka, southeastern Poland, Saturday, April 9, 2022.

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Anxious about the wellbeing of their Ukrainian refugees, city mayors across Poland are refusing the government’s instructions to sound air raid alarm sirens Sunday as part of memorial observances for Poland’s 2010 presidential plane crash.

The right-wing central government wants the sirens to go off at 0641 GMT Sunday, the exact time the plane crashed in Russia 12 years ago, killing President Lech Kaczynski and 95 other prominent Poles.

Kaczynski was the twin of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who is the ruling Law and Justice party’s leader and Poland’s key politician.

But city mayors, who represent local governments, are refusing to do that, saying it will be an unnecessary trauma for people — especially children — who recently fled their homes at the sound of air raid sirens and headed to shelters to avoid Russian bombings since it attacked Ukraine on Feb. 24.

More than 2.5 million refugees from Ukraine have sought security in neighboring Poland and are staying at special reception centers or with private people. Many need psychological assistance to deal with their trauma.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki insisted Saturday that the 2010 plane crash was a national tragedy and its victims merit every form of commemoration. He said text messages were being sent to refugees to explain that the sirens mean no danger.

Amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Polish government is reviving its controversial allegation that the crash on April 10, 2010, which killed the president, the first lady and other leading political figures, was a Kremlin assassination plan. Sunday’s observances are being given special attention.

But local governments, often run by opposition politicians, say the use of air raid sirens for the anniversary is “extremely irresponsible.”

The sirens also bring frightful associations to many Poles who either experienced World War II as small children or watched documentaries of the country’s destruction during the war.

“We will not sound the sirens on the anniversary,” said Rafal Bruski, mayor of the central city of Bydgoszcz. “I have seen too many children terrified by war.”

Bruski said he has grown accustomed to many “unwise” decisions by the current right-wing government “but there are limits to stupidity.”