Ukraine has written to the European Union requesting that it send a group to monitor the situation on the Polish-Ukrainian border, where Polish truck drivers have been preventing their Ukrainian counterparts from crossing in protest against what they say is unfair competition.
Kyiv has also begun the process of preparing to evacuate drivers, who are having to wait several days – often in subzero temperatures – to cross the border.
“We have run out of time to compromise,” wrote Serhiy Derkach, Ukraine’s deputy infrastructure minister, yesterday. “We are initiating the creation of a monitoring group from the European Union at the border…An official letter with such an offer was sent. We are waiting for an answer.”
“We propose to our European colleagues that they officially record the situation that is taking place in front of the checkpoints,” he added. “An official letter with such an offer was sent. We are waiting for an answer.”
Polish truck drivers have been blocking the four border crossings since 6 November, allowing only one truck through per hour. However, vehicles carrying humanitarian and military aid or perishable goods are allowed through without limits.
As a result, queues of lorries have formed at the border, stretching as far as 30km in the case of the Dorohusk crossing.
Polish hauliers want to draw attention to what they consider to be an unfair situation after the EU lifted entry limits in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
They argue that the previous rules kept the freight market in balance but that now – because Ukrainian companies can make an unlimited number of transports through Poland – Polish firms are losing business due to their higher labour costs and the need to meet higher EU standards.
Tensions are brewing between Polish and Ukrainian truckers. After nearly ten days of the border blockade, Ukrainian drivers call themselves „hostages”.
The queue from the Polish side starts around 35km from the border. pic.twitter.com/Ac3pAUfCXv
— Alicja Ptak (@AlicjaPtak4) November 16, 2023
Polish truckers are calling for the reinstatement of the pre-war rules. According to the permits granted by the local authorities, their protest will last until 3 December or 3 January, depending on the border crossing.
“We are asking for the reinstatement of permits for commercial haulage,” Marek Okryński, a truck company owner and one of the protest leaders, told Dutch broadcaster NOS and Notes from Poland
“When the war started, Poland, together with the European Union, abolished permits. However, we must note that, at that time, no one was thinking in business terms, but everyone was thinking with their hearts,” he continued. “We are all unanimously in favour of aid, but we must separate business from war.”
Polish truck drivers have been blocking border crossings with Ukraine and demanding the return of EU restrictions on Ukrainian carriers that were loosened after Russia’s invasion.
Ukraine’s ambassador to Poland says the blockade is a „stab in the back” https://t.co/pVLP57gWDa
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) November 7, 2023
Ukrainian lorry drivers at the border, however, feel they are being kept as “hostages”. They point out the difficult conditions in which they have to wait, especially the lack of access to toilets, showers, water and hot meals.
“It is democratic terrorism,” a Ukrainian trucker who had been waiting for ten days on the Dorohusk border crossing told Notes from Poland last week.
Ukraine has been calling on Poland for weeks to stop the protest, pointing out that it is worsening the situation for a country already mired in a war with Russia.
Three thousand portions of hot soup and sandwiches were distributed to Ukrainian drivers blocked at the 🇺🇦🇵🇱 border. Thanks to a great friend of Ukraine @chefjoseandres for this noble act. @WCKitchen always comes to the aid of those in need. They joined last week, and today they… pic.twitter.com/rvHtdc9C7w
— Oleksandr Kubrakov (@OlKubrakov) November 22, 2023
In his statement yesterday, Derkach noted that the Ukrainian authorities “have started collecting data to evacuate our drivers…[and] we will take out everyone who expresses such a desire”.
This week, the protest by Polish hauliers was also joined by some of their Slovakian counterparts, who temporarily blocked the main crossing with Ukraine on Tuesday, reports Reuters. The main truckers association in Slovakia has still warned it could join the Polish protest full-time.
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Main image credit: Alicja Ptak
Alicja Ptak is senior editor at Notes from Poland and a multimedia journalist. She previously worked for Reuters.