By Pavel Polityuk and Tom Balmforth
KYIV (Reuters) - Ukraine's top truckers union said on Friday its hopes of a rapid end to Polish trucker protests at the border were fading, as Kyiv prepared to evacuate its hauliers stranded in Poland.
Two Ukrainian drivers have died and thousands of trucks have been stuck for days in the winter cold as Polish truckers have blocked the roads to four crossings on the border, a key route for Ukrainian trade during Russia's full-scale invasion.
"Frankly speaking, the more we talk to them the less hope we have," Leonid Kostiuchenko, president of the Ukrainian Association of International Carriers, said in an interview on national television.
"I spoke to the leader of the protesters and his attitude is that we will block for such a long time that you will... celebrate New Year in a queue. I don't understand this humour."
The Polish truckers say they are losing out to Ukrainian companies who offer a cheaper rate and are now transporting goods within the European Union, and not just back and forth to Ukraine.
They launched their blockade on Nov. 6, protesting that Ukrainian truckers are exempt from requiring permits to cross the Polish border, a policy change put in place during the war.
The Polish protests coincide with concerns in Ukraine that the European Union may not agree next month to launch formal accession talks for it to join the 27-member bloc, a key objective for Kyiv.
If the protests drag on for weeks longer, the disruption to trade could affect Ukraine's fragile, wartime economy.
The price of motor vehicle gas (LPG), which is widely used to fuel cars, has already surged 30% due to the protests, one fuel analyst said this week.
RUNNING OUT OF TIME
Some 3,000 Ukrainian haulers are backed up at the border on the Polish side waiting to cross at four checkpoints, Kostiuchenko said.
Deputy Infrastructure Minister Serhiy Derkach said late on Thursday that Ukrainian truckers were suffering in bitter, sub-zero temperatures and that there were no food supplies, basic sanitary conditions or ambulances at the scene.
"For our part, we have started collecting data for the evacuation of our drivers. We have already run out of time to agree on compromises," Derkach wrote on Facebook.
However he added that "local authorities" in Poland had authorised the protests to continue.
"Therefore, we will evacuate everyone who expresses such a desire, and we are distributing evacuation forms to drivers and carriers," he said.
The truckers union says two Ukrainian truckers have died in their vehicles since the beginning of the blockade. The exact cause of their deaths is unknown, though Polish media have cited police as saying one of them was not connected to the protests.
(Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Gareth Jones)