DOROHUSK (POLAND) – Several dozen owners of transport companies on Monday blocked three major Polish border crossings with Ukraine to protest what they say is unfair competition from the neighbouring country's businesses.
Trucks lined up at the border checkpoint in Dorohusk, with almost all cargo traffic blocked by protesters who blamed the liberalisation of European Union rules for the slump in their revenues.
“We want the rules of fair competition to be restored,” Rafal Mekler, a co-organiser of the protest, told AFP in Dorohusk.
Clad in neon safety vests, a group of protesters led by Mekler had left their trucks parked on the main road to the Dorohusk checkpoint, effectively blocking the route.
On the vehicles, a banner detailed the protesters’ demands, with reinstating entry permits for their Ukrainian rivals at the top of the list.
Following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the EU waived a system of permits for Ukrainian transport companies to enter the bloc.
The Polish companies claim the move has triggered an influx of Ukrainian competitors into the sector, plunging their profits.
“Their costs of servicing a truck, hiring a driver or merely of opening a business or paying social insurance are much lower,” Marek Oklinski, a transport company owner, told AFP in Dorohusk.
“They drive the prices down and take the cargo that we used to carry,” he added.
Oklinski has had 25 years of experience carrying goods to Ukraine, but according to him and his fellow truckers, the competition with Ukraine is now proving too difficult to endure.
Ukraine said the protest was damaging to both countries.
Kyiv’s infrastructure minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said that “blocking the border harms the interests and economies of both countries.”
He added that Kyiv was “ready for a constructive dialogue” to solve the issue.
– Make-or-break moment –
Apart from reinstating the EU entry permits, the truckers’ second biggest concern was dealing with procedures upon returning back to Poland from Ukraine.
“The Ukrainian side has created an electronic queue system, where a carrier wanting to enter Poland must register… The waiting time is around 11 or 12 days,” Mekler said.
The hauliers claim that the worsening conditions have forced some drivers to quit their job.
“They say they won’t just camp out there, 12 days without access to sanitary facilities,” Pawel Ozygala, who owns a transport company, told AFP as he coordinated the blockage in Dorohusk.
Protesters staged similar protests at crossings in Hrebenne and Korczowa, pledging to let passenger traffic as well as transport with humanitarian or military aid pass through.
Poland’s infrastructure ministry said Warsaw could not meet the demands of the protesting companies by reinstating the system of permits to the Ukrainian carriers, citing EU rules.
“The agreement was reached by the EU… therefore, in practical terms, Poland cannot reintroduce the permits system with Ukraine until the aforementioned deal expires,” the ministry said in a statement sent to AFP, calling on the protesters to end the blockages.
But for Ozygala and the rest of the truckers in Dorohusk, their protest was a make-or-break moment.
“We are still trying to fight, but by the new year it will be over — and if nothing happens, Ukraine will take over the Polish transport market,” he said.