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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Poland's President Honors Victims of Soviet Invasion

WARSAW, Poland -- President Aleksander Kwasniewski paid tribute Friday to "martyrs of our history,'' traveling to the forest where thousands of Polish officers were killed by Soviet forces after they invaded Poland in the early days of World War II.

Kwasniewski's trip to the Russian forest of Katyn where 4,400 officers are buried - the key point of Poland's commemorations of the Sept. 17, 1939, anniversary of the invasion - took place despite tensions with Moscow over their common history.

The president also was to stop at another Stalinist-era Polish cemetery in Kharkov, Ukraine, and planned to lay flowers on the graves of Russians, Ukrainians and other Soviet citizens who were victims of "Nazism and totalitarianism."

During the solemn ceremony at the Katyn cemetery, broadcast live on state television, Kwasniewski laid a wreath of flowers in Poland's national colors of red and white.

Kwasniewski said Thursday before the trip that he wished to show "present and future generations that only consistent strengthening of democratic changes and neighborly relations guarantee that tragic experiences from the past will never occur again."

The only representative from Russia at the ceremony was historian Alexander Yakovlev, special envoy of President Boris Yeltsin. No high-ranking Russian officials have joined Polish leaders at Katyn since Moscow officially took responsibility in 1990 for the death of Polish officers.

But earlier this week, Russia's Foreign Ministry insisted in a statement that Soviet forces had not invaded Poland on Sept. 17, 1939. Rather, the ministry claimed Moscow was creating a buffer against Nazi forces who had invaded Poland from the west.

Poland's Foreign Ministry protested, and Kwasniewski stressed Thursday that 60 years ago the "Soviet aggression" was accompanied by "repressions against civilians, arrests, mass deportations and executions."