How is international transport affected by the war in Ukraine?

Transport plays a similar role in the economy as the circulatory system does in the body, and Ukraine’s system is in critical condition. Russian aggression has broken the supply chains. Civilian transport, not directly related to the war, is practically non-existent. This is a serious disruption, which also affects the supply chains in neighbouring countries. This conflict has also affected other continents – Russia’s attack on Ukraine has global consequences which will be felt for years.

There are at least a few important causes. Some of them result directly from the war damage. Others are consequences of the sanctions imposed on Russia. And there are others involving the patriotism of the Ukrainians.

Truck drivers take holidays to fight

Straight after the outbreak of the war, Ukrainian truck drivers began to apply en masse for unpaid leave. They could have stayed in Poland, but chose to defend their country. In a short time, Polish transport companies lost about 30 thousand drivers. For many of these companies, this means a reduction in the workforce by half or even more. Replacing Ukrainian drivers is difficult. The rates which are attractive to them do not tempt Polish drivers – especially those who know other languages ​​and have worked, for example, in German transport companies.

Also, assigning Ukrainians or Belarusians to carry out transport within the Schengen Area has become a problem. The reason is the difficulties in obtaining visas. A driver who wants to extend a visa must report to the Polish consulate in the country where he officially lives. Drivers from Ukraine and Belarus (the second biggest group of foreign drivers in Polish transport companies) are often unable to get visas. Ukrainians, who did not leave to fight, do not want to return to the war-torn country. In turn, Belarusians fear that they may be detained and not be able to return to work.

The closure of the Polish-Belarusian border, which includes the suspension of road and rail transport, would be a definitive break in the supply chains. This would stop the exchange of goods, whose scale can be assessed on the basis of  the number of Polish trucks crossing the eastern border: approx. 200 thousand times a year to Belarus and approx. 180 thousand. to Russia.

War transport has replaced civilian transport

Those means of transport  that are still operational have been taken over to handle the war. Road and rail transport carry out humanitarian missions – transporting people fleeing the war, delivering food and medicines. Weapons and ammunition are probably delivered through the same channels.

Europe and the world have closed the skies to Russian planes. In response, Russia closed its airspace to Europe and selected countries of the world. There are practically no civilian flights over Ukraine. Courier companies are giving up delivering parcels in Russia, and more and more retail chains are suspending their activities.

The war or sanctions have made it impossible to transport goods in a huge geographical area. Avoiding them is extremely costly: the length of supply chains is negatively impacted, fuel consumption is increasing, and more staff are needed. Expensive transport raises the prices of goods. Even worse, the battles are taking place in the area of the New Silk Road, leading from China to Europe having a massive detrimental impact on transport. The costs of dealing with the consequences of this situation are soaring.

Communications infrastructure devastated for years

The Ukrainians blew up numerous bridges to hinder the march of Russian troops. Heavy military equipment is using and damaging normal roads. The Russians have destroyed many airports and railroads. In this situation, it is certain that the destruction will hamper transport long after the war ceases.

Returning to the pre-war situation is not only a long way off, but maybe even impossible. The reconstruction of supply chains running through the territory of Ukraine and Russia will be time-consuming and difficult not only on the technical level. Politics and the new balance of power in Europe and the world will have a major impact on the future shape and functioning of supply chains. Currently, no self-respecting analyst will risk answering the question of what kind of deal it will be and when it will emerge from the chaos caused by the Russian aggression in Ukraine.