Aid flow to Ukraine choked by red tape, logistics hurdles

by Krystyna Shchedrina

Organizations sending humanitarian aid to Ukraine face new challenges due to growing demand, lack of warehouse space, and newly implemented rules and customs regulations.

For one business, that has meant an end to free shipments to Ukraine, exhausting available budgets in just one month.

Costs climbing

On March 1, Meest Express, a Ukrainian family-owned company in Canada, began waiving fees to ship parcels under 60kg and was charging $5 per kilogram beyond that. High demand made Meest limit free shipments to one or two parcels a day, and then limited the shipments to those containing just medicine and first aid kits.

“Since the beginning of the war, Meest and the BCU Foundation have sent more than 180,000kg of humanitarian aid to Ukraine, sending approximately12,000kg daily,” it said in an online statement.

As of April 4, the company is introducing a fee of $6 per kilogram to ship goods by air and $3 per kilogram to ship by sea.

This comes against the backdrop of the challenges that companies and freight forwarders experience in light of new customs regulations and resource shortages in the region.

Mississauga, Ontario-based Musket Transport has partnered with Polimex Forwarding Corp to help Ukraine in its war against Russia.

Customs crack-down

Last week, on March 29, the company started collecting individual donations to fill up an individual 40-foot container with 20 to 22 skids, to ship to Ukraine. However, Sophia Sniegowski Begidzhanov, Musket’s corporate communications officer, said they must be cautious and diligent in checking the donated goods to ensure the container’s contents will not be stopped at the border.

Begidzhanov said it was easy to send supplies to Poland, and from there to Ukraine, but now shipments are under scrutiny. “The way that I would understand the process is, when something like a crisis of this nature happens, at the very beginning, there’s an immediate call for help, and there isn’t enough time to set up a proper screening process, so everything is being accepted. And as time goes on, they can set up the right checks and balances. It can become cumbersome and frustrating for those of us who provide humanitarian aid when the goods are held up at different checkpoints. But ultimately, it’s done to ensure the quality of goods coming in for the refugees,” she said.

She added that there’s a long process to go through each item before getting to its final destination. This is why Polimex and Musket specifically collect an itemized list of goods, including essential over-the-counter American-branded medicine that cannot be expired and must be sealed. Customs officials have repeatedly held up transports of humanitarian aid where they discovered expired pain medicine.

Driver shortage

Once the aid is in Poland, ready to be trucked into Ukraine, aid organizations face additional challenges. The driver shortage in Europe, including Poland, invoked by Ukraine’s military law, has left logisticians with a lot of aid and not enough resources to distribute it.

Vitek Manitius, president of Polimex, said that affects storage space. “Because of all the help being sent to Ukraine from different parts of Europe, Canada, and the U.S., we are all competing for the warehouse space,” he said.

Begidzhanov added that even while collecting help in Canada, Musket and Polimex have to deal with storage shortages. However, she said it definitely is a bigger issue in Europe, especially with the lack of drivers. And even though some portion of the aid is sent via rail, Begidzhanov said this percentage is very small since the rail is mainly used to move refugees, and the lion’s share of goods is delivered by trucks.

The aid is largely delivered to large cities like Lviv, Ternopil and Kyiv. Because drivers don’t want to take the risk, remote villages and smaller towns struggle to get much-needed and long-awaited aid.