Lviv Oblast’s border with Poland is clogged daily with opportunistic small traders
SHEHYNI, Ukraine – There are lots of road signs in the city of Lviv and the surrounding oblast pointing to Shehyni, a village of 1,000 people straddling the M-11 highway.
The village, 630 kilometers west of Kyiv, is unremarkable but for one thing – at its western end is one of Ukraine’s largest border checkpoints with Poland. Most importantly, it’s the only one of the region’s six border checkpoints that allows people to cross the Ukrainian-polish frontier on foot.
This has spawned a lively, small-scale smuggling industry in the village, which supplements the locals’ meager incomes and raises money for the Polish budget. But it also gives trouble to local business and the customs authorities. Four-dollar trade After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the local collective farm in Shehyni closed down, throwing the whole village out of work. The few remaining jobs were at the local school, health clinic, hotels, restaurant and stores, and at the border checkpoint.
The villagers quickly started to exploit the border trade as an additional source of income, playing on the price differences for cigarettes and vodka in Ukraine and Poland.
Once across the border, the value of a pack of Ukrainianmade cigarettes of well-known brands almost triples. Immediately after crossing, Ukrainians hawk their products to the Polish customers at an informal market.
Border opportunities The border gives the villagers other opportunities to make money besides selling cigarettes and vodka.
Once across the border and having sold their goods, a villager may be picked up by a trader transporting Polish products to Ukraine, Kryveiko said. Such traders look for people to share the car ride as, according to customs rules, the maximum amount of goods for personal usage cannot exceed 50 kilograms per person or be worth more than €500. With an additional person in a car, a trader can avoid paying customs duty, while the villager gets Hr 50-70 ($2-3) for the ride.
Some 100 meters from the checkpoint an old, white, Soviet-era Volga car is parked with 10-kilogram plastic tubs of honey on its hood. A ragged cardboard sign reads “Honey. Hr 50”
But that’s not the price of the honey – it’s how much a person will be Border guards’ burden The crowds crossing from into Poland and back every day complicates the work of customs and border officers. Lines frequently build up, sometimes with 300-400 cars waiting at the vehicle checkpoint, and dozens of people at the pedestrian crossing point.
Levko Prokipchuk, the ex-head of Lviv customs, who is temporarily serving as a head of Ivano-frankivsk Oblast customs, said that around 60-70 percent of the people crossing the border into Poland are Ukrainian citizens with local border traffic permits. He said that after Poland temporarily suspended the special border-crossing regime in July, the lines reduced significantly.
“We have a situation in which the salary they (the residents of the 30-kilometer border zone) can earn officially… is smaller than the amount of money they can earn by trading across the border,” Prokipchuk said.
Since the beginning of 2016, Lviv customs has seized around 200,000 packs of cigarettes from smugglers, Prokipchuk said.
According to him, bringing the price of cigarettes in Ukraine to the same level as in Poland would greatly reduce the problems. Prokipchuk also advocates reducing the amount of goods a Ukrainian is allowed to carry across the border. Today it’s 50 kilograms per day.
“Once we resolve these two questions, the local border traffic won’t play any role,” he said.