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20,000 trucks stuck at Ukraine-Poland border amid spat over access to EU

A queue of trucks stands on the road in Przemysl, southeast Poland, 08 November 2023, waiting to cross the Polish-Ukrainian border crossing in Medyka./Darek Delmanowicz/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

More than 20,000 trucks from Poland and Ukraine are blocked at three major border crossings as striking Polish drivers protest an EU deal that allows Ukrainian trucks unlimited access to the bloc.

On Monday, Polish carriers began blocking the movement of trucks along the three largest border crossing points between the two countries: Korczowa-Krakowiec, Hrebenne-Rava-Ruska and Dorohusk-Yahodyn, Ukrainian state media Ukrinform reported.

“Currently, more than 20,000 vehicles are blocked on both sides. The economy of not only Ukraine or Poland suffers losses, but also of other countries that cannot transport goods,” Ukraine’s Ministry of Restoration said in a statement Thursday.

Truck drivers from Ukraine have been exempt from seeking permits to cross the Polish border since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, Polish drivers claim that Russian and Belarusian entities have been setting up Polish outfits, according to Reuters.

The strikes follow a spat between the neighboring countries earlier this year over cheap Ukrainian grain, which would normally be shipped from the country’s now-occupied Black Sea ports, but instead flowed into Europe through Poland.

The influx of product undercut Polish farmers, leading to a now-lapsed temporary EU ban. Poland does not allow Ukrainian grain to be sold in its domestic market.

Poland’s support has been essential to Ukraine’s war effort; since February 2022, several million displaced people left Ukraine and into Poland, and several billions’ worth of NATO military equipment has been rushed in through Polish territory.

But fatigue is setting in in Poland and sympathy waning – as was apparent during the country’s recent election campaign, in which right-wing parties sought to capitalize on anti-Ukrainian sentiment.

The International Transport Association of Ukraine said that Poles “are not satisfied with the high competition that developed after the liberalization of international transportation between Ukraine and the EU countries.” Therefore, one of the demands is the cancellation of visa-free transport, Ukrinform noted.

Serhii Derkach, a deputy minister at Ukraine’s Infrastructure Ministry, told Ukrinform that this demand is “impossible to fulfill.”

“It is impossible to cancel the agreement on the liberalization of transportation, because it is a matter of bilateral agreements between the EU and Ukraine. And Poland cannot do anything unilaterally,” he said.

On Monday, Ukraine’s Ambassador to Poland Vasyl Zvarych called the protests “a knife in the back” of Ukraine, which has seen transportation routes, including airspace and ports, severely limited since the invasion began.

According to the Ukrainian national broadcaster Suspilne, the organizers of the protest said they plan to let one truck per hour to go through the border.

The protesters do not plan to obstruct the movement of the trucks that are transporting humanitarian aid to Ukraine, Suspilne noted, adding that the protesters also said they have permission to hold a picket until January 3.

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