On 6 November, Polish carriers started blocking several checkpoints at the border with Ukraine, demanding that their government stop Ukrainian truck drivers from "taking away Polish jobs."
The protests affected three border crossing points: Korchowa-Krakowiec, Hrebenne-Rava-Ruska, and Dorohusk-Yagodyn. The Polish carriers promise to carry out the blockade until 3 January—and if their demands are not met, the blockade will continue.
The protesters have already formed the Committee for the Protection of Transport Carriers and Employers, which is constantly announcing new protests on its Facebook page.
For political reasons, Confederation, a right-wing, anti-Ukrainian Polish conservative party, has taken up the cause of helping the protesters, calling the Polish government’s actions "Eastern messianism" and not the protection of the interests of the Polish state.
Much has been written about the issue of blocking the border. LIGA.net looked into the situation and what conservative Poles who support the blockade say.
What the protesters want
Confederation has led the protest movement against Ukrainian carriers, with Polish carriers and entrepreneurs uniting around it.
Their key demand is a return to the situation that existed before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Since June 2022, Ukrainian carriers have been able to enter Polish territory without permits from EU countries. Prior to the outbreak of the full-scale war, Ukrainian companies received 160,000 permits a year from the Polish government.
According to Polish protesters, Ukrainian companies this year have already made 880,000 transportations across the Polish border, which will reach 1.2 million by the year’s end. In other words, the volume of traffic across the Ukrainian-Polish border will have increased 7.5 times compared to before 2022.
Therefore, the Polish protesters are demanding that the Polish government reinstate the permits that were in place before.
They also demand that licences for companies that were established after the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion be suspended. They claim that such companies are controlled by what the Poles call "Ukrainian business with big capital", and "small family-run Polish businesses" are losing out to the competition.
Polish entrepreneur Edyta Ozygala said that transport in Poland accounts for seven percent of the country’s GDP, while agriculture, for only three percent, and mining, five percent.
The transport sector provides 6.5 percent of all the jobs in Poland and is therefore critically important for the country. The bankruptcy of local carriers will lead to significant unemployment.
The Polish infrastructure ministry has published a full list of the protesters’ demands. They include:
- the return of permits for Ukrainian carriers;
- stricter requirements for transport under ECMT (European Conference of Ministers of Transport);
- a ban on the registration of companies with capital from countries outside the EU in Poland;
- access to Shliakh, a Ukrainian system where men who have the right to travel abroad (most of them are drivers) are registered;
- separate queues for EU cars in the eCherha system;
- and separate queues for empty trucks.
What Ukraine is doing
Serhiy Derkach, Ukraine’s deputy infrastructure minister, is in charge of dealing with the situation on the Ukrainian-Polish border. He periodically hosts streams on his personal Facebook page, trying to provide some information about the course of events and the ministry’s position.
In one of the streams, Mr Derkach said that Ukraine’s principled position is to move forward with the permitless border crossing system. He called the demands of Polish protesters absurd since they demand that Kyiv itself ask the EU to reinstate the permits.
Negotiations are ongoing, Both with the Polish authorities and with the carriers.
The meetings that took place on Tuesday, 14 November, yielded no results. The next round of talks took place on Thursday, 16 November, and also failed. The Ukrainian government does not want to give up the transport visa-free regime, which is valid until 30 June 2024, and the protesters continue to insist on the urgent return of the permit system.
The Ukrainian government has offered compromises to the Polish carriers, the infrastructure ministry told LIGA.net in a statement.
Those include adding two queues, one for loaded trucks and the other for empty ones, as well as allowing change in the data in the eCherha system about the truck and the driver, which the Polish protesters had insisted on earlier.
But the Polish carriers have refused to accept such compromises, stressing that they want the permits back, the abolition of transport visa-free travel, and the return of work in the Russian and Belarusian markets to continue making money.
What is really happening
Oleksandr Kyryliuk, director of the international road transport department at ZAMMLER logistics group, says that if the permanent blockade of the border by Polish carriers continues, it will cause great damage to the Ukrainian economy.
"Ukraine will not receive 60 percent of the goods it imports now. There may be a shortage—from household chemicals and hygiene products to production equipment and raw materials," Mr Kyryliuk said in a column on Ukrainian website NV.
"In short, the blockade of the border crossing points with Poland is fraught with major economic problems."
Mr Kirilyuk added that Polish carriers are trying to get preferences in order to increase their share of export-import operations with Ukraine.
Yurii Shchuklin, who owns the logistics company Cargo+, told LIGA.net that it is impossible to calculate the share of the Polish market occupied by Ukrainian carriers, but its scale could be put into perspective if one counted the Polish cars in border queues and multiplied by the number of days of their downtime.
The time that a Polish car loses in our queue is taken from the Polish market, and its place on the market can be taken by Ukrainian carriers.
"The specifics of the Polish market are such that there are no 'free' Polish cars, i.e. those not loaded with cargo, at all. This is because there was a healthy balance between the number of vehicles and the amount of cargo, which Ukraine can only dream of. All their cargo had its own cars, and all the cars had their own cargo," Mr Shchukin explains.
"But this balance has been upset by our queues. Our carriers are taking the place of this transport, which is now in short supply, and reducing the revenue of Polish companies. The amount of time Polish carriers spent in queues means that they did not drive so many tonne kilometres and did not receive any money for it. This is how they lose income."
The businessman believes that the demands of Polish carriers are adequate in their situation.
"Ukrainian cargo flows to Poland have increased many times over, not because we wanted it so much, but because of the war. However, the consequences for Polish carriers, which changed their lives, their market and their way of life, were caused by our actions after the borders were opened to us," he tells LIGA.net.
"Since most Polish companies hire Ukrainian drivers anyway, there is no problem to register a company in Poland with our cars and drivers. And I personally know several such companies that significantly increased their vehicle fleet last year.
"And now, when there is no cargo for them in Ukraine, they have started re-registering these vehicles to their Polish friends and setting up companies. And these cars are already with Polish licence plates, the companies are formally from the EU."
The people interviewed by LIGA.net say that the problem is that the Ukrainian infrastructure ministry is trying to reach an agreement with its Polish counterparts, which has no leverage over the protesters. Their slogan is simple and emotional: "Foreigners are taking away our jobs!"
The negotiations go like this: Ukrainian, European and Polish officials work out what they consider to be a compromise; then the Polish authorities present the proposals to the activists; and those reject them.
In this situation, any rational proposal from the Polish authorities will be met with objections.
Similarly, Polish farmers had a negative perception of the agreement between the Polish and Ukrainian agriculture ministries on allowing the transit of Ukrainian grain without the right to sell it in Poland. They simply did not believe that officials would enforce this agreement.