Ukraine’s Zelenskiy decries ‘mockery’ of Polish border protests

By Thomson Reuters Feb 19, 2024 | 5:32 PM

(Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Monday decried as a “mockery” protests by Polish farmers that have disrupted passenger and freight traffic in and out of Ukraine and called for “rational decisions” to restore normal cross-border traffic.

Polish protesters have vowed to step up their blockades of the border on Tuesday. Deputy Ukrainian Prime Minister Olha Stefanyshina told the Evropeiska Pravda media outlet that talks would be held on Tuesday with European Union officials in Brussels to resolve issues linked to them.

Zelenskiy said the dispute over ecological and trade issues appeared absurd when viewed from Ukraine’s northeast Kupiansk region, where he visited frontline areas in difficulty from Russian attacks in the nearly two-year-old war.

“The situation is not about grain, but rather about politics,” he said in his nightly video address.

“And near Kupiansk, not far from the Russian border where enemy artillery is constantly active, the news from the Polish border looks like a mockery. We need joint decisions, rational decisions to get out of the situation.”

Farmers in France, Belgium, Portugal, Greece, Spain and Germany have been protesting against constraints placed on them by EU measures to tackle climate change, as well as rising costs and what they say is unfair competition from abroad.

Polish farmers have been particularly vocal about the impact of cheap food imports from Ukraine.

Ukrainian Deputy Infrastructure Minister Serhiy Derkach said six checkpoints were blocked on the Polish side of the border, with movement halted altogether at the Yahodyn-Dorohusk checkpoint. Humanitarian aid and fuel were not getting through.

“This has a direct effect on our defence capabilities,” he wrote on Facebook.

Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubarkov, quoted by his ministry on Facebook, said online video footage showed protesters blocking buses with passengers on board. He had held talks with the head of Poland’s National Security Bureau, Jacek Siewiera.

Ukrainian railways reported that trains were operating normally across the border a day after police and rail workers broke up a blockade that had halted one cross-border service.

Polish Agriculture Minister Czeslaw Siekierski said this month he understood the challenges farmers were facing but hoped the protests could be organised in a way to be “the least burdensome for citizens”.

The farmers’ Solidarity trade union said as well as the blockade of Ukraine border crossings, it planned on-and-off blockades of roads throughout Poland until March 10.

(Reporting by Ron Popeski and Nick Starkov; Editing by Sandra Maler)