Fri. Feb 23rd, 2024

Polish truckers continue to block passage at several entry points into Ukraine to put an end to what they consider to be unfair competition.

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Ça plays hardball on the border between Poland and Ukraine | War in Ukraine

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Serhi, 61-year-old Ukrainian trucker.

  • Tamara Altéresco (View profile)Tamara Altéresco

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It is midday and we are following a small van driving in the opposite direction of traffic to distribute food to Ukrainian truckers.

Good Samaritans knock on the door of each heavy goods vehicle to hand them a plastic bag.

Serhi, a 61-year-old man, sticks his head out of his window and grabs his. There is bread, a bottle of water and a bowl of soup which he sips immediately before it cools.

He's already been sleeping in the cool of his cabin for five nights, and he's not at the end of his troubles.

I have advanced 300 meters since this morning and it could take another two days or two weeks before crossing into Ukraine.

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Yet we are so close, in Dorohusk, Poland, just six kilometers from the border.

Like thousands of other Ukrainian truckers, Serhi advances according to the blockades established by Polish truckers in front of four border crossing points, including Dorohusk.

Protesters filter out the goods trucks that cross in dribs and drabs, on average five every three hours… no more.

The protest movement has been going on for more than 45 days and, so far, the Polish government has not intervened to stop them.

The blockades are in effect authorized by local mayors in solidarity with Polish truckers who accuse the Ukrainians of unfair competition.

The mayor of Dorohusk however, broke ranks this week by ordering an end to the barricades, after receiving complaints from residents who deplore the long lines and the garbage littering the road.

Despite the mayor's decision, the road remains blocked by a truck which has supposedly broken down and which we cannot tow, a Polish woman, Edita, tells us with a smirk.

I'm here to defend our businesses, she said. She is the owner of a transport company in Poland, she refuses to capitulate and deplores the status quo.

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Edita and her colleagues block the road to Ukraine at the Dorohusk crossing point in Poland.

Because since the war began, truck drivers from Ukraine, which is not a member of the European Union, no longer need a permit to make deliveries in Europe, and they have no not to submit to the same rules as their European colleagues.

They cost less, they do not pay the same fees, the same taxes, and they are taking advantage of this to corner the market, says Edita, with a rebellious tone.

She claims to have had to lay off five of her employees due to lack of contracts, and she fears the future.

In the endless line of trucks , which stretches for more than 50 kilometers, Ukrainian drivers are nothing less than exasperated.

We have no toilets, no water, no shower, it's inhumane, says Anton, a trucker who has to cross the road to a wooded area to relieve himself due to lack of sanitary facilities.

He says he understands the frustration of his Polish colleagues, but it is in Brussels that they should complain, not punish us.

Because it was the European Union which voted in July 2022 in favor of suspending the permit system which previously limited the entry of carriers Ukrainians in Poland.

The measure was supposed to be temporary to help Ukraine's economy, suffocated by bombing and deprived of air and sea routes to export its wheat and goods.

Today, Polish carriers accuse Ukraine of abusing European hospitality, hence their decision to block border crossings until pre-war rules are restored.

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The colors of Ukraine are displayed prominently in Serhi's truck.

Sitting in his truck, Serhi shrugs his shoulders helplessly. He says the blockade is eating away at his income, which initially is rather modest.

Ukrainians earn almost half as much as Poles, says- it, and this is partly what the demonstrators denounce, who say they are ready to continue until February if necessary to win their case and receive compensation.

If you had to hire delivery people, would you hire those who cost more?, asks Edita, irritated.

The tension is high near of the blockade, where Polish and Ukrainian truckers cast suspicious glances at each other and send each other the middle finger.

To think that two years ago, this border had become the symbol of Polish solidarity when tens of thousands of Ukrainians fleeing the bombs were welcomed with open arms.

Today, these lines of trucks are the emblem of trade tensions between two countries competing for the European market.

There was the boycott of Ukrainian wheat announced by the Polish government last summer, then today, the blockade of goods trucks. Although this was not initiated by Warsaw, the Polish government became complicit, according to the European Commission.

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Lines of trucks on the Polish-Ukrainian border.

It even threatens to open infringement proceedings against Poland for #x27;ensure that European law is respected at the border.

The coming to power of the pro-European prime minister and friend of Kiev , Donald Tusk, could be a game changer.

His election this week puts an end to eight years of popular nationalist and anti-European government.

But it is still too early to predict whether Tusk will be able to resolve the crisis and how it will do it.

The governments of Kiev and Warsaw have an interest in negotiating quickly to find grounds for cooperation, says Dariusz Kostrzębski of the Polish-Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce.

He has in his hand the list of countries that pay the price for delivery delays. From Italy to the UK to Lithuania, there are millions of euros at stake, he says.

But it is the Polish and Ukrainian economies that are suffering the most at the moment.

According to Volodymyr Zelensky's government, Ukrainian exports have fallen 40% since the blockades began in early November, which Kiev says is undermining its ability to finance the war.

It is only Moscow that is benefiting from this crisis, adds Dariusz Kostrzębski of the Polish-Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce.

In line, many truckers told us they were convinced the Kremlin was financing the Polish protest movement, and they suspected the organizers of being in Moscow's pay.

Rafal Mekler is one of the main organizers of the blockades. We met him in the evening when he had just filed a legal petition to challenge the Dorohusk mayor's decision to remove the barricades.

We have no choice, if we do nothing, we will lose our companies because the Ukrainians are flooding our market, says Mekler who owns a transport company.

He is also a member of the far-right Confederation party in Poland, well known for its anti-Ukrainian positions.

We should send these Ukrainian truckers to the front and we, the Poles, will transport them what they need.

He says it without blinking.

I am serious, very serious, said Mekler, after a long silence which says a lot about the climate which reigns in Poland, especially in the east of the country, where support for the neighboring war is diminishing over time.

It's turning the knife into the wound that is war, believes Serhi, who counts himself among the lucky ones because he lives in the western Ukraine, where there is little bombing.

But he tells us about the men from his village who died in battle with glassy eyes and heaves a sigh of anguish.

It took hours and police intervention to tow the truck blocking the road at the Dorohusk border crossing.

But blockades continue at several other border crossings along the border, with no sign of letting up.

  • Tamara Altéresco (View profile)Tamara AltérescoFollow

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