Ukraine on Friday said that the fallout from a weeks-long protest by Polish truckers on their countries’ shared border was “catastrophic”, as Slovak hauliers also began blockading crossings with their war-torn neighbour.
Polish truckers have been blocking major crossings for cargo vehicles with Ukraine since early November, demanding the reintroduction of entry permits for their Ukrainian competitors.
“Blocking traffic on the border between Poland and Ukraine: the situation is catastrophic!” Kyiv’s rights ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets said in a statement.
“Ukrainian drivers are in such a dire situation that they plan to go on hunger strike if the situation does not improve!”
Huge queues have formed on both sides of the border, with many drivers stuck in their vehicles for days in cold temperatures and with little food.
Kyiv on Friday said that some 2,100 trucks trying to enter Ukraine were blocked on the Polish side.
Lubinets said he had contacted his Polish counterpart Marcin Wiacek but has not yet received a response.
He also said that Kyiv has started to prepare for “the evacuation of drivers from blocked checkpoints on the territory of Poland”, without giving details of what that would look like.
He said Ukraine had also started preparing to supply drivers with food, water, medicine and fuel.
At least two rounds of talks between Kyiv and Warsaw, as well as the EU, have failed to end the protest.
“No one has agreed to anything. Please consider this as the official position,” Rafal Mekler, a co-leader of the protest, said on social media.
Mekler is also a politician with the far-right Konfederacja party in the Lublin region which borders Ukraine.
Warsaw said this week it would conduct “stepped-up checks” on Ukrainian trucks on roads leading to the border in an effort to placate the protesting hauliers.
The truckers say they have faced unfair competition since the EU permits were scrapped after Russia invaded Ukraine.
Poland has taken in over a million Ukrainian refugees since the outbreak of war with Russia.
But relations with Ukraine took a sour turn during Poland’s parliamentary election this autumn, when the ruling party increased nationalist rhetoric and became embroiled in spats with Kyiv.
As the situation on the Polish border worsened, Slovak truckers mirrored their northern neighbours and also began blockading crossings with Ukraine.
Members of Slovakia’s truckers union UNAS were allowing only four trucks per hour to enter Ukraine at the Vysne Nemecke checkpoint.
“We will stay here until steps are taken to limit competition from Ukrainian hauliers,” Rastislav Curma, deputy president of UNAS, told AFP.
“We want to support our Polish colleagues,” Curma added.
Polish and Slovak road carriers say the scrapping of the permits led to undercutting by Ukrainian competitors, which has taken a serious toll on their earnings.
The Ukrainian border agency on Friday warned of disruptions in cargo traffic at the Vysne Nemecke crossing, but assured that “traffic will not be blocked when entering Slovakia.”
“The movement of cars and buses will also not be restricted,” it said on social media.
The Slovak protest came after the new government in Bratislava earlier this month blocked a military aid package to Ukraine.