Protesters in Poland drenched Moscow’s ambassador to Warsaw in red paint after swarming a local cemetery for Soviet soldiers who died in World War II, chasing the diplomat away and disrupting his embassy’s attempts to commemorate the end of the conflict.
Several hundred Ukrainians and Poles surrounded Ambassador Sergey Andreyev as he attempted to lay a wreath in front of a 115-foot-tall, Soviet-star-topped obelisk, built by authorities in 1949, just as Moscow was imposing Communist rule in Poland. The surrounding grounds hold the remains of about 20,000 Soviet soldiers who gave their lives to defeat Nazi Germany, a sacrifice Russia marks annually on its May 9 Victory Day.
Mr. Andreyev was blocked by the crowd shouting “murderers” and “fascists” as several flung blood-colored paint into his face and eyes. Nearby, demonstrators held up photos from the Ukrainian town of Bucha, whose brief occupation by the Russian military in March saw hundreds of civilians killed and buried in mass graves.
Before leaving the Soviet-era memorial, Mr. Andreyev said that he was proud of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and referred to parts of eastern Ukraine that he said now belonged to Russia. Polish police on hand, meanwhile, arrested a handful of pro-Russian protesters, leaving the Ukrainians and Poles who opposed the war mostly in peace.
Russia’s embassy had already canceled plans for a larger memorial service at the cemetery, whose obelisk by Monday had been vandalized in blue and yellow graffiti reading: “Kill Putin.” Warsaw Mayor Rafał Trzaskowski had called for the service to be banned, tweeting: “No Polish public institution should lend a hand to this initiative… I have no consent for the aggressor’s festival in Warsaw.”
Russia’s embassy issued a short statement lamenting that Polish authorities opposed a ceremony that it said “is about the celebration of the anniversary of the victory over Fascism, thanks to which the Polish state exists today!”
The Soviet Union lost about 27 million people during the war: about 14 million of them Russian, and another 7 million Ukrainian. To advocate for his invasion of Ukraine, Mr. Putin has reached back into that history, which Russians broadly see as a collective sacrifice that, among other outcomes, freed Poland from Nazi occupation.
But few Poles feel that the Soviet Union liberated them when—after first carving up Poland in a 1939 pact with Nazi Germany—it returned, five years later, and imposed nearly a half-century of Communist rule.