Lviv Oblast’s bor­der with Poland is clogged daily with op­por­tunis­tic small traders

Kyiv Post Legal Quarterly - - News - By ro­[email protected]­post.com

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.

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