Written by Carol Badohal and Alan Sharlish
WARSAW (Reuters) – Polish truck drivers and farmers on Monday began blocking the road around the clock to reach one of the busiest border crossings with Ukraine, expanding a protest that has left more than a thousand trucks stuck for days in queues that stretched for miles. .
Truck drivers, who are now closing the Medica crossing as well as three other border crossings, complain that they are losing out to Ukrainian companies that offer cheaper prices for their services and that transport goods within the EU, and not just between the bloc and Ukraine.
“I would like to end this protest as soon as possible, because it is as stressful for us as it is for everyone around us,” said Thomas Borkowski, head of the Committee for the Protection of Transporters and Employers, a Polish union.
“We have no intention of giving up and we will hold out until we get our terms.”
Polish truck drivers began their protest on November 6, demanding that the EU reintroduce the permit system for Ukrainian truck drivers entering the bloc and EU truck drivers entering Ukraine, with exceptions for humanitarian aid and military supplies.
The system was lifted after Russia invaded the country in 2022.
Truckers also want empty EU trucks to be excluded from Ukraine’s electronic parking system and measures taken to prevent Belarusian and Russian transport companies from setting up companies in Poland to circumvent sanctions.
The current waiting time for trucks to cross at Medica, one of the eight border crossings with Ukraine, is 91 hours according to data from the Polish Border Guard.
Ukraine says the protest is hurting its fragile wartime economy by hindering exports and stopping supplies of necessities such as automotive gas (LPG) from entering the country. Kiev also says humanitarian aid has been blocked, something the protesters deny.
No constructive talks
His ministry said in a statement that Polish Infrastructure Minister Andrzej Adamczyk sent a letter to Ukraine requesting that EU drivers with empty trucks be exempted from the electronic queuing system at at least two crossings.
The Infrastructure Ministry also said that Adamczyk asked Adina Valian, European Commissioner for Transport, to set up a joint committee to analyze the effects of lifting the requirement for permits on the bloc’s transport market.
However, truck drivers say the outgoing Polish government and the coalition of pro-EU parties that look set to take power after last month’s national elections have shown a lack of interest in their problems.
“There are no constructive talks, and no one wants to meet with us,” said Jacek Sokol of the Committee for the Protection of Transporters and Employers, referring to the government.
With much attention in Poland focused on attempts to form a new government, the far-right Confederation Party, which claimed during the election campaign that Poland had gone too far in helping Ukraine, was the most vocal supporter of the protests.
The main opposition has placed responsibility on the outgoing nationalist government of Mateusz Morawiecki, the Law and Justice Party.
“It would be good if Polish airlines…banned Mr. Morawiecki, because he is responsible for this situation,” said Marcin Kirwinski, a lawmaker for the Liberal Civic Alliance.
In Medica, truck drivers joined a protest organized by farmers demanding continued government support to help them cope with falling grain prices.
Protesters say two trucks per hour are allowed through Medica, with exceptions for humanitarian aid and war supplies.
With Russia effectively closing Ukraine’s Black Sea ports – a major export route before the war – Ukrainian companies are relying on roads and railways to redirect exports and imports.
(Reporting by Carole Badohal, Alan Scharlish and Pawel Florkiewicz; Editing by Susan Fenton)
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