WARSAW, Poland – Poland's president is leading international commemorations on Thursday marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, a gathering meant as an alternative celebration to Moscow's Red Square parade two days later.
President Bronislaw Komorowski organized the ceremonies in Gdansk in reaction to the deep divisions between the West and Russia over Moscow's actions in Ukraine.
They were meant to give Western leaders who want to avoid the Russian ceremonies a chance to pay homage to the Allied victory over Nazi Germany in 1945.
Though many Western leaders are boycotting the May 9 commemorations in Moscow, few have agreed to come to the Polish event.
The guest list, however, does include U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, European Council President Donald Tusk, who returns to his home city for the event, and the presidents of Ukraine and several Central European countries.
The main commemoration will take place on the Westerplatte Peninsula in Gdansk, the site of some of the first shots fired by Germany against Poland at the start of the war.
Before the ceremonies, the U.N. leader met with Komorowski and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. In a statement, the U.N. said Ban "encouraged the sides to swiftly and fully implement" the measures of the peace deal for Ukraine agreed on in Minsk, Belarus.
Meanwhile, Russians are preparing to celebrate the Victory Day holiday with great pomp on Saturday.
Increasingly under President Vladimir Putin, Russia has used the holiday to celebrate the Soviet role in the Allied victory over Nazi Germany to instill patriotism at home and to justify the country's aggressive foreign policy.
Komorowski has said that the Polish event will also stress how the end of the war didn't bring full liberation to much of eastern Europe, but instead brought decades of unwanted Soviet domination.
That message is not likely to sit well with leaders in Russia, who prefer to stress the heroic side of Soviet actions in liberating Europe from Adolf Hitler.