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21 Feb, 2024 10:14

Zelensky criticizes protesting Polish farmers

News about the blockade seems like “outright mockery” for Ukrainian soldiers, the president has said
Zelensky criticizes protesting Polish farmers

President Vladimir Zelensky has lashed out at Polish activists who are blocking Ukrainian grain from entering their country. News of the protests “seems like outright mockery” to Ukraine’s soldiers, he said.

Polish farmers opposed to competition from cheaper Ukrainian grain have been protesting at the countries’ border since October.

They argue that Ukrainian suppliers don’t have to comply with EU rules and standards, and therefore have an unfair advantage.

Warsaw has imposed a ban on Ukrainian imports but allows produce to transit through the country. However, there are concerns that the grain is making its way onto the Polish market.

President Andrzej Duda insisted to Ukrainian radio on Tuesday that while his government supports Kiev it will not quash peaceful protests because the right of trade associations to demonstrate is protected by law.

Farmers from all over Europe are unhappy about the influx of Ukrainian grain “because they fear for their existence,” Duda said. “It is not hard to understand that they are fighting for their wellbeing.”

Zelensky’s criticism came in a video statement on Monday evening, in which the Ukrainian leader lamented an “erosion of solidarity” caused by protests. He suggested that “in reality, the situation is not about grain, but rather politics.”

Duda hailed Warsaw’s successful negotiations with truck drivers, who had previously participated in the border blockade for reasons similar to those cited by farmers. The president urged Ukrainians to remember that, whatever dispute the two nations have, ultimately Russia “is to blame for everything, and not someone else.”

Tempers have been running high on both sides of the border in recent times. Earlier this month, the Ukrainian embassy in Poland filed a complaint to the national police after some protesters allegedly dumped Ukrainian grain on the ground. Embassy officials called it a “shameful crime,” while Andrey Sadovoy, the mayor of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, branded demonstrators “pro-Russian provocateurs.”

In another incident on Tuesday, a tractor was filmed in Poland with a placard urging Russian President Vladimir Putin to “sort out Ukraine and Brussels.” Interior Minister Marcin Kierwinski called the banner “scandalous,” and said it had been immediately removed by police officers.

The EU agriculture market was disrupted in 2022, after Brussels lifted tariffs and quotas for Ukrainian products in a bid to support Kiev’s war effort. The decision caused mass protests in Eastern Europe, as well as a row between the EU leadership and the region’s governments.

In the interview, Duda stated that if Ukraine were admitted into the EU, the conditions of accession would have to properly protect farmers in current member states.