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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Truckers Stranded for Long Haul




ROTTERDAM, Netherlands -- Trapped in a parking lot in Europe's largest commercial port, Russian and Ukrainian truck drivers minced no words in expressing their contempt for the Russian government.


"Politics have hit the brakes on everything," said Ivan Alexandrovich, a truck driver from Kiev, who only gave his name and patronymic. "They have made such a mess! How many weeks has it been that healthy men have been sitting around wearing out the seats of their pants!"


Russia's financial crisis, which struck suddenly in mid-August by paralyzing the banking system and undercutting the value of the ruble, has crippled businesses involved in importing goods.


That has left hundreds of Russian, Ukrainian and Belarussian truck drivers stranded across Europe. They came here in August, unloading goods from Russia and planning to load up European goods to take home f foodstuffs, flowers, machinery.


Instead, they have found themselves with no cargo to take home. In Rotterdam's port, drivers sit amidst miles of cranes, containers and trucks f loitering, sleeping, playing cards and talking about life or politics in a mix of Ukrainian and Russian understandable to all.


With no imports to drive home, no cash and no food, they are well and truly stuck. They cannot afford to go into the city f what can they do there without money? f or to telephone their families.


Dutch truck drivers took pity on their Eastern colleagues last week and appeared at the Rotterdam port with gifts of potatoes, bread and other staples. Dutch television has also reported on the plight of the Russian truck drivers, and kind-hearted locals have also brought food.


"Thanks of course for the food and such, but what is really missing is salo and gorilka," joked one jolly Ukrainian driver, referring to his nation's favored delicacies, fatback and vodka.


"We are more or less O.K.," agreed Ivan Alexandrovich, who has been stranded in the Rotterdam port for three weeks. "We have a shower and a cafe here at the parking lot. But the men at another Dutch parking lot have resorted to fishing for food."


If help has been forthcoming from ordinary people from Europe, Russian officialdom has done nothing. Asked whether the Russian consulate in Rotterdam had shown any concern for the stranded Russian truck drivers, Vladislav from Rostov laughed sarcastically: "You'd be better off asking about [help from] God himself!"


Vladislav has been in Rotterdam since Sept. 12, while his brother has been trapped at another truck stop in Antwerpen, across the Belgian border.


Few of the drivers would offer their names: All of them fear a wave of layoffs when they return to Russia, and none wanted to give his employer an excuse to single them out.


That is not to say that their employers have been ogres. Some trucking companies are doing what they can for their trapped drivers.


"We are trying to help our drivers as much as possible," said Charles Zwaneveld, director of Belsta, the daughter company in Holland of Russia's largest trucking company, Sovtransavto. "We give them money for food and provide good guarded parking. In cases where somebody is sick, we send a doctor immediately."


But the drivers are still losing pay and bonuses, and the trucking business remains grim. Zwaneveld said that Sovtransavto used to send between 80 and 120 trucks to Russia every week from the Benelux countries of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. In recent weeks, that number has dropped to under 20 trucks a week. And while the Russian import-export business has recovered somewhat, it is widely expected to remain weaker than it was.