May 28, 2016

The Ukrainian-Poland Border as EU Frontier

The EU-Ukrainian border near Dobromyl
in Nyzhankovychi in 2011.
On the photo is easy to notice
the difference in quality of road on
the both sides of the border.Photo by Andrii Bondarenko.

In a globalized world and particularly after the 9/11 attacks borders became places where state policy and control, power and exclusion are manifested. Free movement inside the EU, considered as a positive phenomenon, causes difficulties in cross border movement for those who live in adjacent areas. The contemporary European Union (EU) border regulations, in which the EU is creating supranational political community, are considered by critical thinkers “as antidemocratic, ethically dubious and socially unjust element of state and policing practice that withdraw from responsibility for human welfare” (Follis 2012, 7). In essay, I focus on the EU policy on its eastern borders, namely the Poland-Ukrainian border. My goal is to examine how changes in the border regulations between two countries beginning with 00’s have influenced cross border movement of people between Poland and Ukraine, and to reveal to what extent the concept of “Building Fortress Europe” is relevant.

Particularly, I analyze the issue from different perspectives, namely from the “top” that is the EU politics on the one side and from the “below” - how it shapes the life of ordinary people on the other. I consider the EU borderland as frontier meaning “a politico-geographical area lying beyond the integrated region of the political unit and into which expansion could take place” (Glassner and Fahrer 2004, 72). Thus, I am referring to the EU-Ukrainian border as frontier, as the EU border is changeable, and is moved with expansion of the EU to the east in 2004, and there are discussions about Ukrainian membership in the EU (that were reduced after Ukrainian Crisis from the beginning of 2014). I also refer to the concept of frontier, because of its defense function, in our case it is the strict EU policy regarding to its eastern borders and beyond as the Frontex agency (the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union) program will show.

Background. Delimitation of the western Soviet border was set up after the WW II in 1943-1951 years by the Communist authority when during the Tehran Conference, 1943 (and related follow conferences) the Soviet Union, the United States and the United Kingdom “decided” the areas of its political influences. Thus, this border could be considered as superimposed as it was put on an existing cultural pattern (definition according to Glassner, and Fahrer 2004, 72) of the pre-war Republic of Poland. The border was strictly controlled by the military force during the communist regime. Local communities were involved in the process of controlling by encouraging them to report any “strange” persons in a settlement, suspected in being spies, in return of remuneration. A school circle “Young Friend of the Border Guard” existed in order to educate youth in a proper way (the information is from my parents lived in a town near the border). As Follis (2012, 40) stresses, “the stakes in crossing the Soviet-Polish border were relatively low compared to the iron curtain border between two German states”. She adds that, “high fence, barbed wire, plowed ground and soldier patrol along the border” were for local people an everyday experience of isolation and control (Follis 2012, 40). After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine and Poland had a strong trade and cultural connection, especially in local everyday life scope in borderland areas. The economic crisis in Ukraine in the 90's and differences in prices between two countries make borderland a suitable area for local border trade and it was the main aim of locals’ cross border mobility (Kiiskinen 2008). The rules of crossing borders have changed in 00’s, which made it more complicated.

Recent situation. The perspective from the “below”. After 2007, when Poland joined the Schengen area and set up a visa regime with Ukraine, all kinds of cross-border mobility became increasingly regulated (Kiiskinen 2008). The effect was appreciable, although according to the statistics “the visa requirement has not reduced the traffic significantly, as it returned to the prior levels within a year” (Komornicki 2008, 142-143). However, the statistics does not show that in next years after 2003 in order to get a Polish visa in the Embassy of Poland in Lviv it was needed to stay hours in a line and the same situation was on the Ukrainian-Polish border checkpoints. Currently, after promises of visa liberation from the EU side, Ukrainians still need a visa to visit Schengen area countries and the process of getting it is not easy as documents such as proof of financial status and official invitation letter are required (The Embassy of Poland in Ukraine 2016). Nevertheless, the cross border mobility between Ukraine and Poland grow in recent years. Particularly, in 2009-2013 years the flow between two countries increased from 6415.5 thousand people in 2009 to 14436.5 thousand people in 2013 (Cierpiał-Wolan et al. 2014). However, Follis (2012, 51) suggests, “for some stratum of people border remains quite permeable, for others it is a gate that will open only after certain bureaucracy procedures and for some people the border is still a wall”. Thus, as a result of changes in the Ukrainian-Polish border regulation “some people call the new EU-Ukrainian border a new “Iron Curtain” and some consider it as “Paper Wall” or “firanka”, a velvet curtain” (Follis 2012, 29).

Analysing literature and historic maps, two paradoxes in the EU-Ukrainian border could be revealed. First is that in the age of fast growing mobility, when borders are open to global flow of capital and people, borders remain closed for those who are in disadvantage position. Second paradox is related to the experience of Ukrainians in the Soviet Union with strict control of internal and external migration, now experience limitations of external moving to the Europe again this time it comes from the EU side. Western Soviet border that was set up in 1943-1951 years and was strictly controlled by the military force during the communist regime, recently became highly regulated again with high tech equipment. In 2009 the law about Local Border Area Traffic (LBAT) between Poland and Ukraine was put into effect and inhabitants that live in 30 km. distance from the border (there is a list of settlements) could stay up to 60 days in the 30 km. border area in Poland with special permission in a passport for two years (The Embassy of Poland in Ukraine 2016). The analogy exist also in the Soviet Union from the beginning of 1986, when Local Border Traffic Zone was set up (“Agreement between the PPR and the USSR about simplification of state border crossing by people living in a borderland area” signed in Moscow on 14 of May, 1985), and people from certain list of settlements could cross the Polish-Soviet border and stay in the area no farther than 50 km. between two border settlements (Polish Internet System of Legal Acts 2016).

The perspective from the “top”. In 2004 the EU set up the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union (Frontex, from French: Frontières extérieures for "external borders"), agency that is responsible for security of external EU borders (Frontex 2016) and creating Integrated Border Management between the EU member countries (Sagrera 2014). There exist also Working Arrangements with the border services of third countries and the activity of the EU Border Assistance Mission to the Republic of Moldova and to Ukraine (EUBAM) at the Ukrainian-Moldovan border (Sagrera 2014). Frontex is focused on risk, strategic and operational analysis, and information management (Frontex 2016) with key aim to elaborate to the security policy of the EU. Frontex provides statistics about all kinds of irregular migrations and analyses its main flows. In the description of eastern border route it is stressed that “at all the eastern borders is much smaller than on any other migratory route into the EU and amounts to a fraction of a percent (0.1%) of the total” (Frontex 2016). As we could see, the organization is created with the aim of improving control and security in the external EU borders, and provides information for EU authority.

Sagrera (2014) analyses “new” border management that is exported beyond the EU borders with reference to its influence on mobility. According to him, Frontext beyond management of external borders of the EU focuses also on borders of neighboring countries, and assigned Working Arrangements with Eastern Partnership countries (Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Georgia and Armenia) and Russia, except Azerbaijan. The EU standards are imposed to neighboring countries as a part of promise to make visa-free regime, namely in Ukraine, as Sagrera (2014, 179) states with reference to the interview with the Head of the Justice, Liberty and Security Division, Ukraine Ministry for Foreign Affairs “the Ukraine State Border Guard Service is considered to be ‘the most developed body in the context of the European integration of Ukraine, setting up controls according to EU standards. It is the leading agency in the context of the Visa Liberalization Action Plan”. Sagrera (2014, 179) concludes, that “Integrated Border Management has been a key part of the security-driven EU migration policy towards third countries”.

Thus, the EU policy from the beginning of 00’s till current time was focused on the issue of internal security and control of migration flow. Trough Frontex agency and agreements with neighboring countries, the EU expand its policy even further beyond its external border. It is one more argument why I consider the EU border as frontier with its consequences for the life of people that find themselves in the other side of the border and politics. Although the EU tries to make its policy according to external borders more humane and a lot of economic, cultural and social projects between the EU countries and the Eastern Partnership countries take place, it is evident from Frontex program that protection from “third world” is in the first place for the EU authority. The Polish-Ukrainian border is the example of this process.


Cierpiał-Wolan, Marek, Edyta Giełbaga, and Elżbieta Wojnar. 2014. Border Traffic and Movement of Goods and Services at the European Union's External Border on the Territory of Poland in 2013. Central Statistical Office of Poland. Accessed February 16, 2016.,8,2.html.

Follis, Karolina. 2012. Building Fortress Europe: The Polish-Ukrainian Frontier. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Glassner, Martin I., and Chack Fahrer. 2004. Political Geography. 3rd ed. Wiley.

Kiiskinen, Karri. 2008. “The Power of Translocal Cultural Heritage in the Polish-Ukrainian Borderland.” Ethnologia Fennica 35: 16-30.

Komornicki, Tomasz. 2008. “Transborder Transport: The case of Poland’s Present and Future Schengen Area Boundaries” In Cross-border Governance and Sustainable Spatial Development: Mind the Gaps! eds. Markus Leibenath, Ewa Korcelli-Olejniczak, and Robert Knippschild, 133-146. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

Polish Internet System of Legal Acts. “Agreement between the PPR and the USSR About Simplification of State Border Crossing by People Living in a Borderland Area.” Accessed February 16, 2016.

Sagrera, Raül Hernández. 2014. "Exporting EU Integrated Border Management Beyond EU Borders: Modernization and Institutional Transformation in Exchange for More Mobility?" Cambridge Review of International Affairs 27 (1): 167-183.

The Embassy of Poland in Ukraine. 2016. “All about Visa. Shengen Visa”. Accessed February 16, 2016.

The Embassy of Poland in Ukraine. 2016. “LBAT”. Accessed February 16, 2016. Accessed February 16, 2016.

The European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union (Frontex). 2016. “Mission and Tasks”. Accessed February 16, 2016.