Ukrainians block Polish border post to protest visa price hike
( dpa ) - Hundreds of irate Ukrainians blocked a border crossing with Poland on Tuesday to protest a recent hike in the cost of obtaining a European Union visa.
More than 700 demonstrators standing on the highway halted traffic in both directions at the Krakovets border checkpoint, a crossing site used mostly by regional residents.
The demonstration, including bonfires built on the road itself, began in the early morning hours.
"We say 'No!' to a new Berlin Wall!" read a protest banner erected near the crossing point, according to a report from local Channel 5 television.
More than 120 automobiles by mid-afternoon were stuck on the Ukrainian side of the border, attempting to travel to Poland. None were getting through.
The demonstrators were objecting to a recent price hike to Ukrainian citizens for visas to Poland, a country frequently visited by small-scale Ukrainian traders to purchase consumer goods for resale at home.
Poland, due to Shengen treaty rules, set a cost of 35 euros on the visas, with the change effective in January 2008. Previously Warsaw had issued visas to Ukrainians free, as part of a long-term Polish policy of supporting Ukrainian integration into Europe.
Massive lines and sometimes fruitless waits at Polish legations in Ukraine to get the new visas were unacceptable, protestors said.
The demonstration will continue until local residents are able to travel freely as in the past, organizers said.
Representatives from Ukraine's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Polish diplomats, were on the scene and attempting to reason with the demonstrators by late afternoon.
Visa application processing for Ukrainians applying through Polish legations will double in speed in the near future, said Weslaw Osuczovsky, Polish consulate chief in the west Ukrainian city Lviv.
"Of course we are concerned with what is going on here," he said.
Tens of thousands of Ukrainians earn their living through cross- border trade, most commonly by driving into Poland and bringing back consumer goods such as clothing or perfume as personal effects, thereby avoiding import duties.
Poland currently issues some 1,000 visas a day to Ukrainian citizens, a number less then the demand and resulting in long waits for visa applicants, with some simply turned away.
Kiev and Warsaw are in the process of negotiating a treaty regulating local border crossing, in part to maintain the Ukrainian traders' continued business with Polish merchants.
Ukraine has proposed doing away entirely with the visa requirement for Ukrainians and Poles living near the border - a suggestion rejected by Warsaw as impossible given Shengen rules.