Prince William Spends Time With Ukrainian Refugees in Poland After Somber Tribute to War Dead

The Prince of Wales is on the second day of his surprise trip to Poland, where he thanked troops from Britain and Poland who are helping to train Ukrainian forces

Prince William is in global statesman mode as he undertakes the second day of his trip to Poland.

On Thursday morning, the Prince of Wales, 40, held talks with Polish President Andrzej Duda, 50, in the capital city of Warsaw, paid tribute to the country's fallen and spent time with refugees from Ukraine who have settled in the country.

Following the meeting with Duda, a spokesperson for the Prince of Wales told reporters that "the conversation was warm and friendly and predominately focused on the ongoing conflict with the war in Ukraine, particularly its impact on Polish society."

"The Prince of Wales took the opportunity to thank the President and the Polish people who have done so much to support the people of Ukraine who've fled here," the spokesperson continued. "They discussed the importance of the need for ongoing support to Ukraine and its people."

"The Prince said he was very much looking forward to seeing the President and first lady at the coronation," the spokesperson added. "He also thanked him for attending the late Queen's funeral."

Prince William meets with the President of Poland, Andrzej Duda
Tim Rooke/Shutterstock

The day began with a somber visit to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the heart of old Warsaw, providing Prince William with a moment of reflection for those lost in conflicts today and ones that have gone before.

It was there, in 1996, that William's late grandparents Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip laid a wreath. He followed in their footsteps on Thursday by doing the same.

A soldier carried his wreath — which was decorated with the pure white design of the three Prince of Wales feathers — ahead of him as William made the somber walk through an avenue of guards. William had written on it 'In memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.'

William, The Prince of Wales, adjusts a wreath he was laying during a ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw, Poland
Prince William lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw, Poland. Pawel Supernak/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

When the floral arrangement was laid down on his behalf, William stepped forward and gave it a respectful touch before standing to attention for a few minutes.

The simple ceremony, which was watched by members of the three sections of the Polish Armed Forces, lasted about 15 minutes and ended with the prince signing the visitor's book "William" — below a message that had been prewritten in Polish. Echoing his wreath, it said, "To commemorate those who have made the ultimate sacrifice."

The meeting with President Andrzej Duda that followed was the royal's chance to "reiterate the profound relationship shared by our two nations and underline my continued support and gratitude to the Polish people," Prince William said as he arrived in Warsaw.

The talks at the Presidential Palace, and William's desire to see firsthand how the military is faring in a conflict taking place just a three-hour-long flight from London, are a sign of his burgeoning role on the world stage. The royal was already doing this before his grandmother Queen Elizabeth died in September, but it has taken on a greater significance now that he is heir to the throne.

"This is a continuation of the evolution of his role as a global statesperson," his spokesperson added. "We talk often about him using his global platform for the good of the environment, via Earthshot. But this is the first opportunity for him to take a visit of this kind as Prince of Wales and, given that it is one of the biggest political issues facing every country on the planet, this is a demonstration of him growing as a statesmanlike figure."

A general view of the message on the wreath from Prince William, Prince of Wales at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a monument dedicated to Polish soldiers who lost their lives in conflict, during day two of his visit
The message on the wreath from Prince William at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw. Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Part of the visit revolves around Prince William shining a spotlight on both the plight of recent refugees and the efforts and help being done on their behalf by Ukraine's neighbor, Poland. On Wednesday evening, he spent time with some of the 300 women and children being cared for in an old office block that's been converted for accommodation.

On Thursday, after the chat with President Duda, the Prince of Wales headed to a vibrant food hall in downtown Warsaw.

The royal was met by a group of well-wishers, including three friends — two of whom had traveled by train for three hours to see him. Marta Zegarek, 26, held up a sign that said, "Thank you for the visit William."

"We told him we were from the south of Poland and that we really appreciate him coming here," Zegarek says. "We are grateful that he sees us and Ukraine and that we are all in this together."

Prince William meets groups of young Ukrainian refugees at Hala Koszyki Food Hall
Prince William, the Prince of Wales. Tim Rooke/Shutterstock

Her friend, Olga Buchelit, adds that they told him they "really appreciate his support for our country and Ukraine."

Zegarek, who works in the academic events office at the University of Silesia, says: "He was very handsome, very kind and very bright. He was so interested in us and where we are from. It has been our dream come true to meet him as we've been following the royal family for 13 years."

She adds, "We were surprised that he has come here — it is really significant for us and for people of Ukraine that other people see that."

Prince William, Prince of Wales smiles as he listens to young Ukrainian refugees and hears about their experiences of settling into life in Poland at Hala Koszyki Food Hall
Prince William, the Prince of Wales. Chris Jackson - Pool/Getty Images

Prince William was also handed a new hat for his wife Kate by milliner Marta Galinska. She says, "He said he would pass it on to her and for sure she will wear it."

Galinska told him she'd been inspired by his Heads Together mental health campaign to change her life and leave a company she was in and set up as a milliner.

Inside the food hall, Prince William met with some young people who arrived in Poland soon after the conflict started a year ago. They have now found employment or are continuing their studies in Poland.

"He wanted to have the opportunity to highlight that the humanitarian crisis was really important to him and show, publicly, his thanks to the Polish people for their humanity and hospitality not just over the last 12 months but now and into the future," his spokesperson said.

The Prince of Wales also received a bunch of bright yellow tulips from a 7-year-old boy named Noah, who was with his dad Bartek. The royal asked Noah if he was going back to school today (he was!) and whether he had a favorite sport. Little Noah was too nervous to say, his father added.

Prince William, Prince of Wales poses with young Ukrainian refugees after hearing about their experiences of settling into life in Poland at Hala Koszyki Food Hall during day two of his visit
Prince William, the Prince of Wales. Chris Jackson - Pool/Getty Images

In a dining space on the upper tier of the downtown food hall, Prince William moved between two tables to talk with young people who have fled Ukraine and met some of those who also helping the recent refugees with their new, temporary lives.

Yelyzaveta Tupotina, 21, who comes from the eastern area of Donetsk but was studying in Kyiv when the Russians invaded, spent some time talking with the royal.

"I really enjoyed it. I was not really nervous talking to him because we are used to the president in our country is a normal person and, for me, he had the feel of a regular person," she tells PEOPLE. "Communication, it was like with friends."

She said it must have been "hard to listen to some of the stories from the other girls," but he had a easy-going, smiling manner that put people at ease. "He asked about where my parents are staying and about my studying — he was very open and asking us questions so there was no need to be shy and think it was a future king."

"The message I received from him is that Great Britain supports Ukraine — he said again and again that nothing has changed in that help," she continues. "This is a really famous person who wants to show that from getting close to regular people and hearing direct from them personally, not from politics or through media. It's not been hard to settle here as there are a lot of Ukrainian people and the Polish people are very helpful."

She recalled the day when she sobbed with tears in a railway station as she saw people crammed onto trains to leave. "I was sorry people were leaving a place of home but also need a home and they were getting a home."

Oleksandra Dermanska, 31, adds, "He was great. He was really natural. He was asking people, 'What is driving you to remain positive?' and 'How do you get strength to live this life?' "

She was working as a lawyer in Kyiv when the invasion happened. "Everyone was answering him that it is our belief that we will rebuild our country and come back and have a great country. Mostly, people were saying 'of course we want to return.'"

Dermanska is a protection coordinator with IOM (International Organization for Migration) Poland and was living in Kyiv when the Russians attacked in February 2022. She was an attorney-at-law and had to evacuate with her then-2-year-old son at night. Seeing the tracer fire in the sky around her apartment underlined the risk, but she jumped in her car with her son and drove to her parents in the west of Ukraine. After a few days of her father urging her to "go to Poland," she did so, taking three women friends and four children with her, and they arrived in the first days of March 2022.

"Of course, it was great to meet him and to see the royal family want to support Ukraine and that people like him are worried about how we are here," she says. "Yes, it is important about how people in Ukraine are living and coping but also people have challenges here and it's important people like him want to know. It is hard if you don't feel support so this, coming from another country is valuable."

"I lost my job and my career that I had been building for 10 years," she says. "I have found a job here with IOM and am I helping others."

Prince William, Prince of Wales listens to young Ukrainian refugees and hears about their experiences of settling into life in Poland at Hala Koszyki Food Hall
Prince William, the Prince of Wales. Chris Jackson - Pool/Getty Images

Oksana Lytuyn, 26, told him she had a successful career as a teacher for five years but due to the war she had to quit her job. She came to Poland and has been helping fellow Ukrainians via the UN refugee organization. "Him being here is is very impressive — our countries are so far from each other, but it was really kind of him to come," she says.

She and Oleksandra Volkova, 31, came to Poland in March last year soon after the invasion and has also been working with the UNHCR to help their fellow Ukrainians alongside other professionals like social workers and psychologists to help refugees settle and make new lives.

"He was sympathetic and polite and open to speaking, which was a big surprise. He asked how it was in Kyiv now, and I said it is hard because it is war," Volkova says.

William (C-R), The Prince of Wales, is accompanied by Polish military personnel and security as he attends a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw, Poland
Prince William visits Warsaw. Pawel Supernak/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

It is the first time Prince William has visited Poland since 2017 when he toured the country with his wife, Kate Middleton, and children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte. (The couple welcomed their third child, Prince Louis, in 2018.)

Aides point out that Prince William and Princess Kate have followed the Ukrainian crisis since the beginning and have had an ongoing dialogue with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and first lady Olena Zelenska.

"But he wanted to look into the eyes of the Polish people and say thank you for everything they have done. That is the main message he was putting across to the Polish and British military," a spokesperson told PEOPLE.

A general view of the wreath from Prince William, Prince of Wales at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a monument dedicated to Polish soldiers who lost their lives in conflict, during day two of his visit
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw, Poland. Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Can't get enough of PEOPLE's Royals coverage? Sign up for our free Royals newsletter to get the latest updates on Kate Middleton, Meghan Markle and more!

When he landed in Warsaw on Wednesday, Prince William said it was "fantastic" to be back in Poland.

"Our nations have strong ties. Through our cooperation in support of the people of Ukraine and their freedom, which are also our freedoms and yours, these ties are further strengthened," he said. "I'm here because I want to personally thank the Polish and British troops working in close and crucial partnership. I also want to pay tribute to the inspiring humanity of the Polish people. You have opened your hearts as much as your homes."

Related Articles