Pole killed fighting in Ukraine buried as hero of 2 nations

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WARSAW, Poland — A Polish man who died fighting in Ukraine was buried in his native soil Tuesday as weeping mourners praised him as a hero of two nations.

The body of Daniel Sztyber, 35, of Warsaw, lay in a coffin covered in Poland’s white-and-red flag. Young Ukrainians draped in their nation’s flag and aging World War II veterans joined Sztyber’s parents, sister and childhood friends in mourning him.

At the graveside in Warsaw’s Powązki Cemetery, the resting place of illustrious Poles, Sztyber was praised as a freedom fighter in a long Polish tradition of sacrifice.

It is illegal for Poles to fight in foreign armies, but some have volunteered to help defend Ukraine during Russia’s invasion. Poles, like other foreigners who have decided to take part in a war that technically isn’t theirs, feel they are fighting to defend the free world against the menace of a re-awakened Russian imperialism.

It is not clear how many Poles or volunteers from other nations have died while serving in the Ukrainian Foreign Legion, with both Ukraine and Russia withholding the numbers of their fallen.

The Polish fighter’s father, Mirosław Sztyber, said at his son’s graveside that he hadn’t meant to speak but couldn’t hold back. He said Daniel died while trying to save a comrade and suffered excruciating pain during the last three hours of his life.

Speaking earlier to The Associated Press, the father recalled the last message he sent his son.

“I wrote to him to be brave, that he is fighting the army of darkness and is on the side of good. And he wrote me: Thank you, dad.”

“I respect what he did and have respected it from the beginning. He made his choice fully aware that he was taking a risk, but he wanted a free nation, protection of Poland, Europe and the world,” Mirosław Sztyber said.

Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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