Trucks back up for 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) on the approach to the Dorohusk-Jagodin border crossing. Their Ukrainian drivers are stuck in , unable to return home, because Polish transport companies and truckers are blocking border crossings to as part of a protest against cheap competition from their southeastern neighbor.
Conditions are tough: It’s cold, some trucks are parked in a field, and there are hardly any grocery stores within walking distance.
“I’ve already been waiting two weeks — in fact, it’s almost three now. Hardly any water, hardly any food, just a few primitive toilets,” laments one Ukrainian driver. “We’re political hostages here.”
The Dorohusk-Jagodin crossing is situated on the shortest route between Warsaw and Kyiv. All other border crossings leading to Ukraine are blocked too, with hundreds of trucks queuing at each one.
Solidarity corridors set up after Russian invasion
After , the set up so-called “solidarity corridors” to facilitate the transportation of goods between EU member states and Ukraine.
It was primarily about getting humanitarian and military aid into Ukraine, but also . Exports of Ukrainian grain had virtually ground to a halt because of .
As part of the move, restrictions on Ukrainian drivers entering the EU were also eased. Ukrainian driving licenses and certificates for professional drivers are now recognized across the bloc.
Ukrainian companies ‘conquer ‘ large parts of European market
According to Jerzy, a transporter from Biala Podlaska near the Polish-Ukrainian border, this led to the “expansion” of Ukrainian transport companies on the EU market.
“The Ukrainians are cheaper; they don’t have to meet any European standards, which is a huge advantage,” he complains. “They’re allowed to carry any load in Europe for less, while we Polish transport companies have to meet all EU standards and pay high social security contributions.”
Jerzy says that this is how Ukrainian companies were able to conquer a large part of the market — to the detriment of Polish companies.
Before the borders were opened, Ukrainian companies accounted for 60% of cross-border transportation and Polish companies 40%. The ratio is now 90% to 10% — a massive loss for the Poles.
Polish drivers opposed to privileges for Ukrainians
Jerzy is a member of the recently founded Committee to Protect Transporters and Transport Employers in the logistics sector, which organized the protest.
He and his colleague Marek Oklinski are currently working their 24-hour protest shift in a small canopy tent opposite two trucks emblazoned with the demands of the Polish transport companies.
Their first demand is the reintroduction of entry permits for drivers from non-EU countries, which were abolished for Ukrainian drivers in 2022. This, explains Oklinski, would allow Polish transport companies to win back the market shares they have lost.
No blockade of aid or urgent goods
Oklinski says that he understands and stresses that the truckers’ protest does not include urgently needed goods.
“There are no problems with humanitarian and military transports. We let them pass the line of trucks,” he explains, adding that the same applies to perishable goods.
When it comes to all other trucks, however, only three are allowed to cross the border per hour. To determine what cargo the Ukrainians are carrying, the Polish transport workers inspect their shipping documents.
Irregularities and corruption
“I’ve seen fancy sedans with trailers that are officially registered as carrying military aid and were let past the line of trucks,” says one protester who does not want to give his name.
There have been similar reports in the Polish media, which say that is flourishing on the Ukrainian side and claims that a €600 bribe is enough to get a vehicle across the border without any hitches.
There are reports that some customs agencies have specialized in registering vehicles carrying commercial goods as part of humanitarian or military aid convoys — an accusation the Polish transport employers repeated to DW.
Ukraine’s drivers angry too
The Ukrainian drivers are also angry. When the blockade began, they tried to stop Polish cars from crossing the border. Now the border crossing is being guarded by armed Polish police officers.
“The Poles are taking revenge for the fact that they have to wait on the Ukrainian side of the border too, but that’s not the fault of us drivers. It’s not true that we are taking their work. They still have the whole European market for themselves,” says one angry driver from Kovel in northwestern Ukraine.
The easing of restrictions by the EU was morally justified, adds Pavel from Kharkiv. “We’re the only ones driving into war zones. A Polish driver goes no further than Lviv, unloads his cargo there, and feels like a hero. Then he heads straight for home and gets annoyed that he has to wait at the border.”
Ukrainian allegations against Poland
Ukraine’s Deputy Infrastructure Minister Serhiy Derkach has visited his compatriots at the Dorohusk border crossing several times and handed out food to the drivers. He warned about the serious consequences the blockade would have for Ukraine.
“We get about 30% of everything we need for our energy sector via the territory of the Republic of Poland,” said Derkach. If the tankers get stuck in lines, this causes major problems and could lead to an energy crisis, the minister said in Dorohusk on Saturday.
The tense atmosphere has been exacerbated by the deaths of two Ukrainian drivers who were stuck in the tailback. Although they both died of natural causes, Ukraine’s ambassador to Poland, Vasyl Zwarych, posted on Facebook that the restriction of freight transport by Polish protesters poses a threat to people’s life and health.
Frustration and disappointment on both sides
has tried to bring some calm to the situation. “I think we have to give our neighbors time,” he said recently, adding confidently “We’ll manage it.”
This is cold comfort for the Ukrainian drivers who are stuck on the border in wintry conditions.
The Polish transport companies are also disappointed with their politicians. Although there are official Polish-Ukrainian talks at government level, the outgoing government is focusing primarily on and on conflicts within the party. at the earliest.
After the failure of negotiations, the protesters announced that they would continue their blockade until at least early February.
This article was originally written in German.
The post Polish truckers protest “unfair competition” by blocking Ukraine border crossings appeared first on Deutsche Welle.