(Bloomberg) -- Poland’s government has appealed to the European Union’s executive arm to help defuse a dispute with Ukraine over grain shipments after farmers blocked border crossings and disrupted imports.

The protests have grown in recent days with 2,500 trucks trying to enter from Poland on Wednesday stuck on the frontier, according to Andriy Demchenko, a spokesman for the Ukrainian border guard service. Farmers have also disrupted passenger and rail transport from Ukraine, spilling grain on the tracks at a crossing Tuesday, which sparked condemnation from officials in both countries. 

Ukrainian Agriculture Minister Mykola Solskyi and his Polish counterpart, Czeslaw Siekierski, met Wednesday in an attempt to find an agreement, but made little progress. The government in Kyiv is now planning an additional route via the Danube River to redirect its shipments of grain to protect a key source of revenue for the country at war with Russia. 

“The talks are tough and we’re not making any rapid headway,” Polish Deputy Agriculture Minister Michal Kolodziejczak told Polsat News. “The voice of the European Commission and its president will be very important here.”

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy held a meeting with his ministers on Wednesday, where the border blockade was the main topic and steps will follow “very soon,” Zelenskiy said on Telegram. He stressed that the liberalization of trade between Ukraine and EU should continue, and thanked the European Commission for its “clear position” on the matter.

The protests present a challenge for Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who just weeks after taking office in December managed to quell a months-long border blockade by truck drivers. His administration is trying to strike a balance between assuaging a group that has political power in Poland while not disrupting essential assistance for Kyiv as the country suffers from shortages of US military aid.

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While the European Commission has already proposed safeguard measures for Ukrainian imports, Kolodziejczak said Warsaw wants the EU to introduce region-wide quotas on some Ukrainian products. The deputy minister is a former activist who led last year’s protests by farmers that forced the previous government to impose a ban on Ukraine grain before October’s parliamentary election.

Deep Concern

Grain shipments can currently only transit through Poland on the way to ports on the Baltic Sea or elsewhere in Europe. But Polish farmers have demanded that the government seal the border for other food products including sugar and frozen fruits. They claim much of the agricultural imports are of low quality or shipped illegally.

A border blockade is hurting Kyiv’s ability to defend itself as the country awaits essential supplies in its fight against Russia, a senior official said this week. The authorities in Warsaw have disputed the claim, saying deliveries of military aid and other essentials are taking place under police escort.

But the protests are starting to affect the mood as the war approaches its second-year mark. A sign on a Polish protester’s tractor calling for Russian President Vladimir Putin to come and put everything in order in Ukraine sparked outrage and prompted calls to boycott Polish goods on social media. 

The Foreign Ministry in Warsaw on Wednesday expressed deep concern at what it described as anti-Ukrainian and pro-Putin slogans at farmers protests and suggested a Russian provocation.

Blockades on Wednesday continued to affect the main border crossing with Poland at Yahodyn-Dorohusk, said Ukrainian Deputy Agriculture Minister Taras Vysotskyi. At four others checkpoints, Polish protesters allow for just three trucks per hour to pass, according to the border guard service’s Demchenko.

“It’s clear that Ukraine wants to find markets for its products that are close to its border,” Kolodziejczak said. “But it should be clear for all of us, including for Ukraine, that the Polish market is too small for those products.” 

--With assistance from Natalia Ojewska.

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