Ukraine has found a creative workaround to weeks of blockades at the borders of the European Union, which have painfully stymied the flow of military aid to the war-torn country.

The first train destined to carry blockaded supplies into Ukraine via railway from Poland travelled between Ukraine and Poland on Tuesday, Ukraine’s former infrastructure minister, Volodymyr Omelyan, told Newsweek on Thursday.

Trains are currently operating both ways, with a daily capacity of around 50 trucks, which is “something to break the ice” but far from the ideal scenario, he said.

New footage circulating online appears to show trucks mounted onto rail platforms crossing the Polish border with Ukraine, evading the logjams and delays at border crossing points from the European Union into non-member Ukraine.

Polish truckers have mounted weeks of protests on the border with Ukraine, arguing that Ukrainian truckers who have permit-free access to the European Union mean that Polish haulers can’t compete with their prices. Slovak haulers also began their own demonstrations from the start of December.

The EU waived the need for Ukrainian truckers entering the bloc to have a permit in mid-2022 following the outbreak of all-out war in Ukraine. The waiver is due to expire next June.

The blockade has wreaked havoc on the flow of goods and supplies in and out of Ukraine, posing dangers Kyiv will be keen to avert to the country’s economy, which has spent more than 21 months concentrating on fighting off Russia’s invasion.

Ukraine’s ambassador to Poland, Vasyl Zvarych, called the blockade a “painful stab in Ukraine’s back” on November 6, adding that “solidarity” between Ukraine and the EU in the face of Moscow’s invasion was at risk.

Ukrainian drivers wait near their trucks, blocked by Polish protesters near the Polish-Ukrainian border crossing on November 19, 2023 in Lublin Voivodeship, Poland. Ukraine appears to have found a creative workaround to weeks of blockades at the borders of the European Union in Poland that have stymied the flow of military aid to the war-torn country.
Yan Dobronosov/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images

The Federation of Employers of Ukraine, representing Ukrainian business interests, had said the blockade will have “extremely dangerous consequences” for the Ukrainian economy, as well as the country’s security.

“The estimated direct losses of Ukraine’s economy from blocking a number of checkpoints at the Polish-Ukrainian border already amount to more than €400 million [$430 million],” the organization said on November 23. A fortnight later, the economic impact has likely grown significantly.

On Wednesday, Reuters reported that organizations providing military aid to Ukraine could see “several weeks” of delays of drones and other supplies, citing three unidentified industry sources. It had been reported that humanitarian aid and military supplies were exempt from the blockade, but many items for Ukraine’s military are thought to arrive on commercial trucks that fall under the blockade.

Earlier this month, Ukrainian Railways, which looks after the country’s rail infrastructure, told domestic media that it was investigating how to move goods across the border by rail, rather than road.

“This is when a truck pulls into a platform and is transported by rail,” Ukrainian Railways official Valery Tkachev told Ukrainian broadcaster Kanal7.

“But this is quite a new type of transportation for us. It was never in high demand,” Tkachev said.

Although a step forward to alleviate the blockade’s effects on Ukraine, it is not a permanent solution and using the rail networks for this purpose means sacrificing other goods transportation, Omelyan told Newsweek.

Newsweek has reached out to Ukrainian Railways and the Ukrainian ministry of infrastructure for comment via email.

The protesters blockaded several crossing points of the eight joining Ukraine and Poland by road, including one of the busiest: the Medyka crossing.

“At the moment it’s taking a minimum of eight days to re-enter Ukraine,” one Ukrainian trucker told The Guardian earlier this week as he attempted to cross back into the country. “That’s the best-case scenario. Worst case is two weeks.”

“We are not against the Ukrainian people, the Ukrainian state,” a Polish protester told Polish outlet Notes from Poland shortly after the blockade began. “We support their efforts to fight the Russian invaders, but, as business owners, we have already reached our limits.”

Ukraine’s infrastructure minister, Oleksandr Kubrakov, said on December 3 that Kyiv and Warsaw were opening the Uhryniv-Dolhobyczów checkpoint to move empty trucks from Ukraine to Poland after “lengthy negotiations.”

“The ultimate goal of the work is to unblock the border,” Kubrakov added.

Empty trucks had started leaving Ukraine through the crossing at 1 a.m. local time in December 4, Ukraine’s state border service said.

Warsaw officials have called for the reinstatement of the Ukrainian permits, with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki saying on Monday that the country “will very strongly and unequivocally demand the restoration of transport permits for Ukrainian drivers.”

In late November, the bloc’s transport commissioner, Adina Valean, said that neither the European Union nor Ukraine should be “taken hostage” by the protesting haulers, and that the blockades were “unacceptable.”

Ukrainian Railways said on Thursday that the first train to arrive back in Ukraine was carrying 23 lorries and was still with Polish customs officials.