Lorries stuck in queues at Poland-Ukraine border
More than 3,000 Ukrainian lorries are stuck at the country’s border with Poland as a result of a blockade by Polish truckers. And the European Union has launched a scathing attack on Warsaw’s failure to resolve the increasingly bitter dispute.
Waiting times at the Dorohusk border checkpoint are now as long as three weeks, and at least one driver has already died in his vehicle. Pictures showed protesters camped out while drivers in hi-visibility vessels stand by their vehicles in freezing conditions.
Ukraine’s Deputy Infrastructure Minister Serhiy Derkach told Politico: “Drivers are forced to wait in an open field with no proper food supplies and no proper restrooms.” The Ukrainian government was preparing to evacuate the drivers, he added.
Mr Derkach continued: “We offered Polish truckers to open more checkpoints and create special road lines for the empty Polish trucks. But they do not want to register in an electronic queue system like everyone else. It would be unfair to other countries if we offer a special treatment.”
Keeping trade moving across the border is critical for the Ukrainian economy, 21 months after Vladimir Putin ordered his full-scale invasion. However, Polish truckers are angry at what they see as Ukrainian drivers undercutting their business.
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Polish farmers, who claim cheap Ukrainian grain imports are dragging down domestic prices, have also joined the protest.
Adina Valean, the European Commissioner for Transport, criticised what she called a “complete lack of involvement” by the Polish authorities.
Speaking in Brussels, she said: “The Polish authorities are the ones who are supposed to enforce the law at that border. While I support the right of people to protest, the entire EU – not to mention Ukraine, a country currently at war – cannot be taken hostage by blocking our external borders. It’s as simple as that.”
Failure to act could result in Poland being hit by an infringement for “not respecting the rules or not applying the law”, she warned.
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However, the fallout from last month’s Polish election, which saw the country’s rule Law and Justice Party lose its Parliamentary majority, is hampering Poland’s ability to react.
Infrastructure Minister Andrzej Adamczyk has appealed for Kyiv to meet the demands of truckers, who want the EU to scrap rules introduced after the start of the war allowing Ukrainian drivers to drive anywhere in the bloc with almost no restrictions. The same rules apply to hauliers travelling in the opposite direction.
Donald Tusk, the former President of the European Council, is expected to take a very different approach if, as expected, he becomes Poland’s next Prime Minister. Speaking on Tuesday, he said: “Since they pretend to have formed a real government, they could pretend to deal with real problems.”
Rafal Mekler, owner of a trucking company from Miedzyrzec Podlaski in eastern Poland and a member of the far-right Confederation Party, complained: “Ukrainians used to carry out 160,000 trucking operations before the war. This year to date it’s been nearly one million.
“We are fighting for our transport business, not against Ukraine. But Ukraine has dug its heels in and won’t budge an inch, giving us this emotional rhetoric about the war and how we are blocking medicines from going through.”
Understandably, Oleksiy Davydenko, who owns a Ukrainian medical supply chain called Medtechnika, took a very different view, saying he say lorries carrying fuel and humanitarian aid shipments unable to cross the border.
He said: “They let some 30 trucks a day pass the border. How can we even say they have the right to do it? What is this, a siege of a war-torn country?”
Poland’s recently appointed Agriculture Minister Anna Gembicka denied his claims about humanitarian and military aid being held, blaming the problems on the border on Russia’s invasion and what she called the “irresponsible” policy of the EU “which does not see the problems of Poland and other border countries.”
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