Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

The current plan is to build new checkpoints and rebuild others. According to a think tank, Ukraine is in desperate need of modernization of its checkpoints. 

The Ukrainian government has approved to spend 350 million dollars on building 10 new customs points and rebuild 25, a recent press release says. A large chunk of the money comes as a loan from Poland, and the money will go to different things such as installing video surveillance equipment, weighing, and scanning systems.

“The main goal of the Ministry of Finance remains the same – it is a modern and transparent customs. The government’s decision today will allow Ukraine to obtain another 35 checkpoints with the latest technical equipment, which minimizes the human factor in the inspection, and hence corruption risks,” said Yuriy Draganchuk, Deputy Finance Minister for European Integration, adding that it would be used on customs points near Poland. 

“The primary need for the construction of checkpoints is their technical re-equipment to automate the processes of customs control and clearance, which, accordingly, will speed up the necessary customs procedures, promote foreign economic activity and fill the state budget,” said Draganchuk. 

9.8 billion UAH will be spent in total, according to the government. 4.5 billion will go to construction, reconstruction, and overhaul, while 5.3 billion will be spent on installing video surveillance, weighing, and scanning systems.

Ukraine requires repairs

Ukravtodor, the Ukrainian state agency for roads, is also preparing to repair and upgrade 250 kilometers of roads near border checkpoints this year, reports UBN. A lot of work will take place near Zakarpattia, close to Slovakia, Hungary, and Rumania. You can read more about the specific projects in a Facebook post by Ukravtodor

The upgrades of both roads and customs checkpoints are urgently needed, according to Lesia Dubenko and Pavlo Kravchuk, analysts at Kyiv-based think tank Europe Without Barriers. In a piece for the Atlantic Council, they recently argued that “the current congestion and infrastructural chaos at the Ukraine-EU border is expensive.”

“It hinders deeper bilateral cooperation and negatively affects a wide range of businesses involved in cross-border trade (between the EU and Ukraine). To cite just one among thousands of examples, Ukrainian export company Modern-Expo reports annual losses of USD 50 million due to border delays,” Dubenko and Kravchuk argue. 

“Ukraine’s European border crossing points have never been more strategically important. They are the main gateway for Ukraine to engage with its EU neighbors and a key physical component of the country’s post-2014 European choice. However, relatively little has been done over the past seven years to modernize and improve border crossings along Ukraine’s shared frontier with the European Union. This inactivity threatens to create artificial barriers to further European integration,” the authors say and argue that better customs points without long traffic jams and corruption would benefit integration. 

Hard to change things

In the last few years, Ukraine has had several leaders of State Customs Service, the state agency overseeing Customs. In 2019, for example, Ukraine appointed Maksym Nefyodov to the position after the election of Volodymyr Zelensky to the presidency. Nefyodov is known as a reformer and is well-liked in the West for his views on modernization. 

He lost his job in 2020 when Zelensky removed many ministers and state agency heads. Nefyodov estimated that “state coffers lose between $4 billion and $8 billion due to corruption” in the customs sector every year, before leaving office. 

After Nefyodov lost his job, he told the author of this article that he was pressured out of office because his reforms were too radical for some. He said that corruption in Customs is so widely spread that it requires several initiatives to better. It is needed to raise salaries for workers because they don’t earn enough to get by without taking bribes.

Furthermore, he said that the annual budget for renovating customs buildings is zero. It is the standard procedure that half of the money a customs officer collects in corruption from companies goes to the customs officers’ own pocket, while half goes to the local customs office, where some will be spent on maintenance of the building.