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Ukraine: Diplomat Appeals To Poland To Keep Border Open

Warsaw, 11 May 1998 (RFE/RL) -- A high ranking Ukrainian diplomat says Poland should keep its eastern border open to facilitate Ukraine's contact with the West. Petro Sardachuk, the Ukrainian ambassador to Warsaw, said last week (May 9) during a panel discussion on the European integration that the tightening of Poland's eastern border and imposition of visas would push many Ukrainians into the Russian sphere of influence.

"The Berlin Wall was dismantled. Are we going to build a new one in the east from the pieces of the pulled down Berlin Wall," he asked. Sardachuk said about 6 million Ukrainians visit Poland annually. He said most of them are small traders who are attracted by trading possibilities and higher living standard in Poland. "They bring the news home and see the necessity to follow the Polish example," he said. Sardachuk said a ban on visa free traffic to Poland would be taken by millions of Ukrainians as an unfriendly gesture. It might also convince them that there is a need of closer cooperation with Russia. "I think Poland is not interested in having Russian troops again at its eastern border," he said.

According to Sardachuk, the present system of visa free traffic is beneficial for both sides since Ukrainians spend about $500,000 annually in Poland. Poland restricted border traffic on Jan. 1 this year. The restrictions affected mostly Belarusians and Russians because their governments have failed to reach so called re-admission agreements with Poland. These agreements create an obligation to take back illegal migrants.

Lithuania and Ukraine have reached such agreements with Poland and their citizens can still travel to Poland without visas. But both countries are concerned that Poland may introduce visas for their citizens once it becomes the EU member in the next three or four years. At that time, Poland's eastern border will become the eastern EU border.