Small Polish Town Becomes the Center of Attention After Missile Blast

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PRZEWODOW, Poland — Surrounded by vast, flat corn fields, Przewodow is a tiny village of just 500 residents right on Poland’s border with Ukraine. But on Tuesday night, this sleepy settlement became an unlikely center of global attention as news spread that a missile had hit a grain silo, killing two local residents.

Twenty-four hours after the deadly blast, access to Przewodow (pronounced pshe-VOH-doov) — made up of a couple of colorful, Soviet-style block houses, a school, a grocery store and a farm — was restricted to residents only. As rain poured down on Wednesday evening, scores of cars and journalists arriving on the scene were being stopped by police officers.

The explosion happened on a day when Russia unleashed one of its broadest barrages of aerial strikes on Ukraine since invading in February, firing about 90 missiles at targets across the country, primarily electrical infrastructure.

But Russia insisted that it had not fired at targets near the Polish border, and President Andrzej Duda of Poland said Wednesday that it appeared that a Ukrainian air defense missile had most likely been the cause of the blast, but that an investigation was continuing.

A team of Polish prosecutors was examining the remains of an S-300 missile recovered from the scene on Wednesday, Zbigniew Ziobro, Poland’s justice minister, said on Twitter. They were being supported by American experts, he added.

Both Russia and Ukraine use the Russian-built S-300 surface-to-air system as protection against incoming aerial assaults, but military officials and experts have said Russia has increasingly used it offensively as its stockpiles of attack missiles dwindle.

The victims of the blast were two farm workers, according to Polish media reports. One, a tractor driver, had just come back from the field, carrying corn, when the missile hit at around 4 p.m. local time on Tuesday.

Marta Majewska, the mayor of the neighboring town of Hrubieszow (pronounced hroo-BY-shoov), said that the explosion had increased the nervousness local residents feel about the war in neighboring Ukraine.

“We are living just next to the border, so these sentiments have been heightened since Feb. 24,” she said in a phone interview, referring to the date when Russia launched its full-scale invasion. “Whether these missiles will turn out to be Ukrainian or Russian, none of this information will be reassuring,” she said.

Przewodow is in one of the poorest regions of Poland, which was heavily impacted by World War II. Before 1939, the population was evenly split between Poles, Ukrainians and Jews. The village underwent a triple occupation, first by the Soviets, then by the Nazis, and then by the Soviets again. The Ukrainian Insurgent Army, which engaged in guerrilla warfare, was active there.

Now the region is home to over 60,000 refugees from the war in Ukraine, the vast majority women and children.

Following Tuesday’s explosion, the headmaster of the local school, Ewa Byra, said that psychological care would be provided for students, teachers and employees of her school.

Iwona Okopinska, who owns a grocery store in the nearby town of Wisznow, said that on Wednesday her customers only spoke about the blast. They were concerned, she said, but they were not panicked.

“Everyone is waiting for more information,” Ms. Okopinska said.


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