KYIV (Reuters) – Charities and NGOs supplying military aid to Ukraine’s armed forces are facing delays of several weeks to critical supplies of drones, electronics and pickup trucks due to border protests by Polish truckers, three industry sources told Reuters.
Thousands of trucks carrying commercial goods have been backed up for weeks at Poland’s border crossings with Ukraine because of the protests, which began on Nov. 6. Hauliers in Slovakia began a similar blockade on Dec. 1.
The protesters want to end Ukrainian truckers’ permit-free access to the EU, saying Ukrainian drivers are undercutting their prices. Kyiv says the volume of wartime traffic makes a truck permit system impracticable.
While the protesters say they allow humanitarian and military aid through, many resources required by Ukraine’s armed forces are bought by civilian organisations and transported on commercial trucks, which are not allowed to pass the blockade.
Ukraine’s government has much smaller financial resources to fund its military than Russia, which launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022.
As a result, the armed forces have relied heavily on hundreds of millions of dollars of auxiliary supplies of items like drones, vehicles and body armour from Ukrainian charities throughout the war.
Taras Chmut, head of Come Back Alive, Ukraine’s largest military aid charity, said dozens of night-vision systems and pickup trucks as well as hundreds of drones procured by his group had been stuck at the border for several weeks.
“This is not good, because they are tied to projects, timings and deadlines … Things are getting through, but it is slower than it was before,” he told Reuters.
He said Come Back Alive was trying to work out a deal with Polish authorities to allow unimpeded passage of their aid, as Kyiv had no choice but to import many crucial items from abroad.
“Pickup trucks all come from abroad, night vision kits all come from abroad … FPV drones generally come from abroad, and this (protest) slows down our work.”
The extent of the military’s reliance on supplies from volunteers and charities is subject to wartime secrecy, but soldiers in previous conversations with Reuters have said donations make up a significant part of specific types of equipment.
The problems at the border come amid mounting uncertainty over the future of much larger U.S. and European Union aid packages that are being debated in Washington and Brussels and which Kyiv needs.
‘A BIG PROBLEM’
The border protests are affecting manufacturers of military equipment, said Viktor Dolhopiatov, who runs Engineering Corps, a non-profit enterprise making various types of equipment used by the Ukrainian armed forces.
“If the blockade continues this could become, and already is becoming, a big problem,” Dolhopiatov said.
Poland has been the most significant route for Ukrainian imports since Russia blockaded Ukraine’s Black Sea ports at the war’s start.
He told Reuters the border blockade had delayed supplies of parts for machines in his factory, as well as components for power supply units used in drone engines and radio stations.
“I am convinced that a large quantity of the parts going to private sector enterprises which work on defence projects are unfortunately currently standing at the border,” he said.
Part of the problem, Dolhopiatov said, was that the cheapest way to ship their goods from Poland is to transport them with other cargoes in large lorries, which increases the likelihood of them being held up for a long time.
The truckers, who let through military cargoes, often don’t do so with dual-use goods to bolster the war effort, he said.
“They go in the main queue.”
A potential way to circumvent the blockade is to ship cargoes in regular cars rather than lorries, but this is much more expensive.
Anatoliy Akulov, who runs the Ukraine in Armor charity fund, which ships both military and humanitarian aid, said haulage costs from Poland to Ukraine, normally $1,700-2,300 per container, spiked to around $5,000 in November.
Akulov said shipments of drone parts and humanitarian cargoes had been delayed. A shipment of fishing nets intended for use as anti-drone nets was now stuck for the third week.
“In order to bring in used fishing nets to protect our soldiers from Russian drones, I would need at least $10,000.”
(Reporting by Max Hunder; editing by Tom Balmforth, Mike Collett-White and Jon Boyle)