Ukraine has been forced to seek alternative fuel supplies as the Russian invasion hits its traditional supply routes, leaving the war-torn country with severe gasoline shortages.
A Russian naval blockade has prevented imports from Azerbaijan and Romania via the Black Sea, while Belarus, previously a major supplier, no longer delivers fuel after its President Alexander Lukashenko let his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin use his country as a base to attack Kyiv.
Oleksandr Kubrakov, Ukraine’s infrastructure minister, said the war-torn country was now getting fuel “everywhere we can get it”.
“All of our imports come from the EU,” he told the Financial Times in an interview. “Previously we only used the countries and ports closest to Ukraine in Poland and Romania, now we import it from Belgium, the Netherlands.”
As many as 230 tanker trucks pass through Ukraine daily, while new agreements with the EU and Poland aim to simplify customs and border control procedures that have left trucks lined up for miles.
Airstrikes in April destroyed Ukraine’s only major oil refinery in Kremenchuk, central Ukraine, which accounted for around 40% of the total gasoline and diesel supply, as well as several fuel depots in across the country as part of a Russian attempt to hit Ukrainian army supply routes. .
Fuel shortages have closed gas stations across the country and threaten to leave drivers stranded.
Refueling requires waiting in line for hours or navigating the card system gas stations have in place to ration fuel at fixed prices.
Some Ukrainians are turning to a thriving online black market run by OLX, Ukraine’s equivalent of Craigslist, with hundreds of classifieds selling ration cards, gas cans or even used water bottles filled with fuel.
Before the war, Ukraine imported only 5% of its fuel through its borders with Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania, according to Rostyslav Shurma, deputy head of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office. Now the figure is 100%. Kyiv has already increased capacity tenfold at its EU borders, he said, and wants to double it further.
Ukraine’s government initially defended price controls, which it said prevented wartime profiteering, but then abandoned fuel price regulations in May after some vendors complained the measures had put them under strain. losses at their service stations.
Alexander Kats, who owns a chain of petrol stations in central Ukraine, is struggling to find enough fuel to run them. “The situation is crazy. Just crazy,” he said.
Days after Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Kats watched helplessly as an airstrike hit a fuel depot he owns just south of Kyiv. With emergency services overwhelmed, the fire raged for several days, burning around 10,000 tonnes of fuel and sending thick clouds of black smoke billowing into the sky.
The rush to import more fuel from Europe has already eased some of the shortages after peaking in May. Serhiy Kuyun, head of energy consultancy A-95, said the number of diesel fuel suppliers had more than doubled in the past month, although supplies of propane-butane and gasoline were increasing more slowly.
In June, Ukraine is expected to import up to 600,000 tonnes of fuel from Europe, ten times more than the 60,000 tonnes imported in March.
As supply increases, Ukraine has eased restrictions on fuel purchases from 10 to 20 liters per person. Kubrakov said he hoped the situation would stabilize in the fall once Kyiv signed longer-term contracts with foreign suppliers.
The global effort to help Ukraine export its grain after Russia cut its main Black Sea supply routes is also helping the country import more fuel, he added, as trains and trucks carrying fuel use the same roads.
European banks, however, are reluctant to finance deals to provide more fuel due to war-related risks, according to Kuyun.
Ukraine’s neighbors are also unable to meet the increased demand. To combat rising regional wholesale prices, Hungary last month limited sales of discount fuel to local residents.
Strong demand is expected to persist as long as Ukraine needs to continue fueling its war effort, Katz said. “Tanks, artillery, trucks and logistics must all be brought in,” he said. “And you have to be able to fill it. There are so many things you can do in a day.