Polish farmers discard grains in riot as Ukrainian conflict expands

Tensions between Poland and Ukraine over grain imports have worsened. Polish farmers frustrated by the influx of Ukrainian grain staged protests, dumping grain from a train. Ukrainian President Zelensky criticized Poland’s actions as unhelpful.

During a video presentation on Monday, the President of Ukraine characterized the blockade imposed by Polish farmers as nonsensical, particularly amidst Russia’s bombardment of his nation. Following a visit to the frontline town of Kupiansk, he emphasized that the issue is not merely about grain but primarily about political matters.

He further remarked, “In close proximity to Kupiansk, near the Russian border where enemy artillery remains active, the developments at the Polish border appear almost ironic. We require collective, pragmatic solutions to navigate through this predicament.”

Zelenskiy noted that merely 5% of Ukraine’s agricultural exports traversed through Poland, expressing concern that this slowdown was eroding “solidarity” on a regular basis. He emphasized the necessity for Ukraine, Poland, and any party concerned about Europe’s fate to come together and address this issue.

Farmers in France, Belgium, Portugal, Greece, Spain, and Germany have been staging protests against restrictions imposed on them by EU initiatives aimed at addressing the climate crisis. They also voice grievances over escalating expenses and what they perceive as unjust competition from overseas.

In Poland, the protests have evolved into an anti-Ukrainian sentiment. Farmers argue that inexpensive agricultural products from Ukraine have negatively impacted their enterprises. They advocate for halting the import of Ukrainian grain and expanding the ban to encompass other items such as fruits, eggs, and meat.

In the fall of last year, Polish truck drivers initiated blockades at border crossings with western Ukraine, citing grievances over unfair practices. They were joined by farmers operating tractors. The blockade concluded in December following the assumption of power by a new Polish coalition government under the leadership of Donald Tusk.

On Tuesday 13th of February, the protests continued. Polish farmers dumped Ukrainian grain from freight cars parked at the Medyka-Shehyni border crossing. Protesters waved Polish flags and chanted: “This is Poland, not Brussels. We do not support Ukrainians.”

Ukrainian commentators noted that the farmers’ actions evoked distressing recollections of the Holodomor, the famine engineered by Stalin from 1932 to 1933, during which 4 million Ukrainians lost their lives. Soviet authorities confiscated grain and agricultural tools from villages, leading to starvation among peasants and their families.

“Let’s be clear: these images deeply disturb Ukrainians,” wrote Sergej Sumlenny, an Eastern Europe expert, on X (previously known as “Twitter”). He emphasized, “It awakens memories of the Holodomor, as Moscow devastated Ukrainian grain. I’ve seen remarks from typically composed Ukrainians who are genuinely shocked. This is entirely unacceptable.”

Officials in Kyiv reported that the blockade has halted the movement of 2,900 cargo trucks waiting to re-enter Ukraine from Poland. Andrii Demchenko, spokesperson for Ukraine’s state border guard service, stated that routes in six directions were nearly entirely obstructed.

These checkpoints encompassed Yahodyn, Ustyluh, Uhryniv, Rava-Ruska, Shehyni, and Krakivets. Ukraine’s deputy infrastructure minister, Serhiy Derkach, highlighted on Facebook that humanitarian aid and fuel were being obstructed. He emphasized the direct impact on Ukraine’s defense capabilities.

During the weekend of the 17th of February, Polish farmers intercepted three trucks bound for Lithuania at the Yahodyn crossing and spilled their contents onto the road. Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, urged Polish authorities to address the actions of “provocateurs.”

“The destruction of Ukrainian grain at the Polish border is intolerable,” he stated. Additionally, apart from military shipments, passenger transportation has been impacted, with reports indicating delays in bus services.

Discussions with EU representatives in Brussels and Poland have been ongoing for several weeks, with instances of cargo spillages bound for Baltic nations also reported last week.

Olof Gill, the European Commission’s spokesperson for agriculture, characterized the discussions as “largely positive and productive,” while acknowledging that certain issues were “long-standing and complex.”

He further stated that the commission aimed “to identify resolutions that enable us to uphold substantial economic assistance for Ukraine.”

Two years ago, the EU removed tariffs on Ukrainian imports following Russia’s full-scale invasion of the country. Subsequently, Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia implemented national bans on grain imports.

In Warsaw, Tusk promptly convened a crucial meeting with his agriculture minister. The Polish Prime Minister has expressed empathy with the protesters, describing their concerns, including those regarding the EU’s green deal, as “largely justified.” The deal urges farmers to lower their carbon emissions and take further steps to enhance biodiversity.

Recently, he advocated for striking a balance between climate considerations and the “existential interests” of “social and professional groups.” Poland’s Agriculture Minister, Czesław Siekierski, expressed his intention to “regulate” trade with Ukraine and to “expand the coverage” of current bans on agricultural products.

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