An AFP investigation revealed that the photo was in fact taken in 2011 in the Polish city of Lodz and has nothing to do with the transit of Ukrainian grain through Poland. Over the past few months, the issue of Ukrainian grain has upset Polish farmers. It has also led to tension between Poland and the European Union.
Ukraine began exporting grain by land through the EU after its traditional Black Sea routes were disrupted by Russia’s invasion in February 2022. But local farmers complained that some of the grain was piling up in Poland and driving down domestic prices.
In order to protect its farmers, Poland’s government on April 15 introduced a ban on grain imports from Ukraine. On April 18, the two countries reached an agreement on the transit of Ukrainian agricultural products through Poland under the condition that none of the grain would remain in Poland. On the following day, a photo appeared on social media that claimed to show Ukrainian grain exports under the escort of Polish police near the Ukrainian border.
“Korczowa: the first trucks full of moldy grain from Ukraine crossed the Polish border this morning. Since then the transport has been under the escort of police cars and helicopters. More than 200 Polish officers — including 40 from the anti-terrorist division — are taking part in the operation,” reads a tweet with the photo, which was published on April 19, 2023.
We searched for the photo on the internet and found that it was first published more than a decade ago and was taken in downtown Lodz, a Polish city more than 370 kilometres away from Korczowa.
Different time and place
One of the first things to raise our doubts was the size of the vehicles in the photo. Grain is usually transported in much larger trucks (with a capacity of over 20 tonnes) than those seen in the photo. Typical grain trucks can be seen for example on AFP photos taken last month at the Ukrainian-Polish border crossing of Hrebenne-Rawa Ruska.
To find the original photo, we did a reverse image search. It showed that an identical image was published in February 2011 on the news site Lodz.naszemiasto.pl, which provides information on Lodz and surrounding areas. The photo was also published that same day by another news site, expressilustrowany.pl. Both had the same caption: “A convoy of dangerous criminals”. The articles quoted Grzegorz Wawryszuk from the press office of the provincial police headquarters in Lodz, who spoke of “prisoner transport vehicles under the escort of cop cars with sirens on”.
Thanks to details from the article, including that the vehicles “turned left onto Mickiewicz alley from Kosciuszko alley”, we were able to easily locate where the photo had been taken. It turns out that it was not an image from Korczowa but had in fact been taken in Lodz, Poland’s fourth largest city.
As you can see in the juxtaposition below, the same building appears in both the photo shared online (on the left) as well as in a Google Maps screenshot of an intersection in Lodz.
Korczowa is a village with only a few hundred people. Its tallest building is a small church. No multi-storey building like the one in the photo can be found anywhere in the village on Google Maps.
Poor quality of grain?
In addition to farmer dissatisfaction over the influx of Ukrainian grain, concerns over its quality also appeared on social media. There were many unsubstantiated claims, including that the grain was “infested with worms” or “moldy”.
Food safety concerns also arose from the fact that because Ukraine is not a member of the European Union, it does not have to abide by EU guidelines regarding pesticides and toxins in grain and cereal products.
Social media claims from the beginning of 2023 that so-called “technical grains” — which are intended for industrial purposes — from Ukraine were being used for human consumption led the Polish government to release a statement calling the information “fake news”. The government assured the public that “all grain imported into Poland is subject to border control by the relevant services.”
Transit allowed but imports banned
Poland’s government on April 15 introduced a total ban on imports of grain and other products from Ukraine in order to protect its own farmers. Fellow EU members Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia took similar measures.
A few days later, Warsaw and Kyiv arrived at an agreement to resume the transit of grain and other Ukrainian agricultural products through Poland while banning imports. Soon after, on April 21, Ukrainian grain transports hit the road again. The deal was agreed on the condition that none of the product would end up on the Polish market.
In order to ensure the security of the transit through Poland, vehicles carrying the product must be secured with electronic seals equipped with GPS trackers and monitored by officers from the KAS national tax administration. The first transport secured by the KAS left the customs department in the border village of Medyka that same day.
The ban on imports of agricultural products like grain, sugar, eggs and other food items from Ukraine will be in force until June 30, 2023. Kyiv has lodged an official protest regarding the issue of grain. Poland and the EU received diplomatic notes on the matter.
Anna Maria Jakubek
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