In the early morning hours of 10 April 2010, a special Tu-154M plane crashed near Smolensk, with Polish President Lech Kaczyński and First Lady Maria Kaczyńska on board, killing all 96 passengers – top state officials, military commanders, and the plane crew.
The state delegation was flying to Katyn to mark the 70th anniversary of the Katyn Massacre. The crash killed the President of the Republic of Poland Lech Kaczyński, the First Lady Maria Kaczyńska, the last President of Poland in Exile Ryszard Kaczorowski, the Deputy Speakers of the Sejm and Senate, a group of parliamentarians, commanders of all branches of the Polish Armed Forces, staff of the Chancellery of the President, heads of state institutions, clergymen, representatives of ministries and veteran and social organisations, accompanying persons, as well as the plane crew.
The passengers on board were on their way to pay tribute to 22,000 Polish officers – prisoners of war – murdered in the spring of 1940 by the Soviet NKVD. The Katyn forest, Miednoye, Kharkiv, and Bykovnia in present-day Russia and Ukraine are the sites of mass murders of Polish prisoners of war: officers, scientists, clergymen, civil servants, and entrepreneurs.
“The future should be built on truth and that is why the truth about Katyn is so important because it brings with it justice and a healing of the heart,” these were some of the words from the speech which President Lech Kaczyński was going to deliver in Katyn.
The 96 victims of the plane crash also included long-standing, distinguished members of the foreign service: Andrzej Kremer, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs in charge of legal, treaty and consular affairs; Mariusz Handzlik, Undersecretary of State in the Chancellery of the President of the Republic of Poland, who worked at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 1994 to 2005, serving among others as Deputy Director of the Security Policy Department; Stanisław Jerzy Komorowski, Deputy Minister of National Defence, acting Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2005-2006; and Mariusz Kazana, Director of the Diplomatic Protocol.
The events of 10 April 2010 shocked millions of Poles at home and abroad as well the international public. Poland is still waiting for the Russian authorities to return the wreckage of the government plane with the black boxes, which would allow obtaining full knowledge about the causes of this tragedy.