Polish hauliers extended their protest to a round-the-clock blockade of the fourth border crossing with Ukraine, adding to the growing tensions over mutual transport regulations that were upended shortly after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Polish truckers say that EU-agreed abolition of the mutual entry permit system has put them in a position where they cannot compete with Ukrainian companies, which have lower operating costs and do not have to comply with EU climate regulations.
Poland is set to raise the protesters’ demands in Brussels next week, asking the European Union to discuss the consequences of the agreement with Ukraine for the stability of the EU transport market.
Granica polsko-ukraińska. Gigantyczne kolejki po obu stronach. Protestujący zaostrzają działania.https://t.co/89jYmzMcdM
— PolsatNews.pl (@PolsatNewsPL) November 27, 2023
To draw attention to their situation, on 6 November, Polish truckers blocked three border crossings, allowing only one Ukrainian truck per hour through (with the exception of trucks carrying perishable goods, humanitarian and military aid and emergencies).
The protest was later expanded to the Medyka crossing, which was initially only blocked between 9 am and 8 pm. Since Monday, however, the Medyka crossing has also been blocked around the clock, reported Polsat News.
According to data from Polish border guard the waiting time to leave Poland through the Medyka crossing was 73 hours this morning, significantly less than waiting times reported by Ukrainian truck drivers in the three other crossings.
While the border guard does not provide exact data for other crossings, where queues stretch more than 30 kilometres into Poland, Ukrainian drivers report waiting, often in freezing temperatures, for more than a dozen days.
Last week, Ukraine announced the evacuation of its drivers, who see themselves as “hostages” of the protesters, from the Polish border and asked the EU to create a group to monitor the protest.
Ukraine has called on the EU to monitor the situation on its border with Poland, which Polish truckers have been blocking in protest at what they say is unfair competition
Kyiv is also preparing to evacuate Ukrainian drivers, who are waiting days to cross https://t.co/EhAjUFMRSR
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) November 24, 2023
This week, the Polish infrastructure ministry announced that the outgoing minister, Adam Adamczyk, had asked Ukraine to abolish the requirement for Polish drivers to sign up to the electronic queue, another of the demands of Polish hauliers, reported broadcaster TVP Info.
Polish truckers see the system as unfair for foreigners, who are forced to wait for permission to leave Ukraine in parking lots, while Ukrainians wait their turn at their homes.
“There are drivers stuck on both sides of the border, deprived of drinking water, meals, fuel or access to sanitary facilities,” said Jan Buczek of Poland’s largest hauliers’ organisation, the Polish International Truckers’ Association (ZMPD), which joined the protest last week.
“The situation is also increasing tensions between the desperate drivers waiting in line and the protesters,” he told news service WNP.
Buczek appealed to Polish President Andrzej Duda to undertake immediate mediation with the Ukrainian president.
Adamczyk, who was replaced by Alvin Gajadhur on Monday with the formation of a new – likely temporary – government, also asked EU transport commissioner Adina Vălean to set up a committee to analyse the impact of a deal on the EU’s pre-war regulations on the road transport market.
On Monday 4 December in Brussels, the matter is likely to be discussed by the EU Transport Council. Poland wants one of the main topics of the talks to be a discussion of the consequences of the agreement concluded with Ukraine.
“There is a need on the part of the EU authorities to evaluate the effects that have arisen as a result of the implementation of the agreement between Ukraine and the EU, as well as changes to its content, which are necessary to preserve the stability of the transport market in individual countries of the community,” the infrastructure ministry said in a press release on Monday.
Meanwhile, the new minister plans to meet with border protesters on Tuesday or Wednesday, government spokesman Piotr Müller reported.
Main image credit: Alicja Ptak
Alicja Ptak is senior editor at Notes from Poland and a multimedia journalist. She previously worked for Reuters.