Ukrainian war compounding Europe’s truck driver shortage 

by Krystyna Shchedrina

Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine is destroying highways and also exacerbating an ongoing truck driver shortage in Central Europe.

Ukrainian men aged 18 to 60, who traditionally account for a significant share of the region’s truck drivers, are now required to join the country’s military. Close to 20,000 Ukrainian nationals have returned to their home country to join in the fight, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in an appearance on CNN.

The global International Road Transport Union (IRU) estimates that about 5,000 drivers from all over Europe remain stranded in Ukraine. Just days after the war started, at least 600 Turkish truck drivers were stranded in Ukraine and Russia, trying to get home, it said.

Pan-European problem

The challenges are not limited to Ukraine alone.

Trucks from Poland account for more than 17 percent of the miles that drivers travel in Germany, and Polish transportation companies employ around 100,000 Ukrainian workers. Germany was already experiencing a deficit of more than 70,000 professional drivers.

On top of that, Germany’s Federal Association of Road Haulage, Logistics and Disposal (BGL) says seven percent of the truck drivers employed by German companies are Ukrainian and may have already returned to Ukraine.

Sweden is already experiencing delays in food imports. Ewerman AB, a grocer and wholesaler in the country, has reported problems sourcing bananas to cover its need.

“Hundreds of containers destined for ports in Russia and Ukraine have been forced to be set aside in the ‘wrong’ harbours, creating queues in the ports,” it said in a newsletter, referring to stranded cargo in Rotterdam, Hamburg and Bremerhaven. Before the war, Ewerman was more easily able to have these containers hauled to Helsingborg by truck.

Foster Finley, a managing director at the Alix Partners LLC consulting firm, said labour shortages remain, independent of the war. Some people had dropped out of the trucking industry during the pandemic.

“This might lead to a further spike in maritime since it will undoubtedly pick up some of the freight that might have moved overland. Because right now, most of the natural marine routes keep people pretty far away from both Russia and Ukraine,” he said.