One year on, grieving Poles pray at site of Russia crash
Polish First Lady Anna Komorowska led dozens of grieving families to western Russia on Saturday to mark the first anniversary of a plane crash that killed the country's president and members of its elite.
Some 125 relatives of the 96 victims landed in Moscow early Saturday before boarding buses that took them to the ancient city of Smolensk -- site of the April 10, 2010 disaster that claimed the life of president Lech Kazcynski.
The pain of the tragedy echoed across the world as disbelieving Poles watched the region where the Soviet NKVD massacred more than 20,000 Polish officers in 1940 come back to haunt them again.
"I join with the American people, including many Polish Americans, in honoring the memory of these 96 Polish patriots," US President Barack Obama said in a statement.
"The images of the wreckage in Smolensk, and the loss of so many extraordinary civilian and military leaders who guided Poland to democracy and prosperity, broke our hearts."
The late Polish president and his top ministers and military commanders had been flying to Smolensk to visit the nearby village of Katyn that claimed the lives of the Polish officers at the start of World War II.
The Katyn tragedy was covered up by Moscow until the dying days of the Soviet Union and became a symbol of the uneasy relations the two nations experienced in more recent years.
But the Russian-made Tu-154 jet crashed in heavy fog in an accident whose blame neither side is willing to accept.
The relatives of the victims were due to say prayers at a newly-erected cross at the site of the airport wreckage before reading names of the victims in a candlelight ceremony and then travelling on to the forests of Katyn.
But all the relatives as well as the first lady were due to return to Warsaw by Saturday evening and observe the actual day of the anniversary at home.
Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski was only planning to join his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev on Monday for ceremonies at both the airport and Katyn.
Russia has issued an initial crash report that placed the entire blame for the accident on the Polish crew and senior officials present on board.
Poland has dismissed the politically-explosive charges and accused local air traffic controllers of failing to notify the craft about the exact weather conditions.
© 2011 AFP