Published: 13:11, 25 December 2020
| Updated: 18:23, 25 December 2020
Lorry drivers are celebrating Christmas Day on the M20 with the army.
Stranded truckers were able to summon the festive spirit despite one of the most unusual celebrations in living memory.
Some, including Russian haulier Yori Olshav, enjoyed a drink while sat in 40 miles plus of Operation Stack.
In Russia most mark Christmas on January 7 although some Catholics do celebrate today - so there is hope Mr Olshav can get back in time for that.
Ukrainian Dmito Bohavi was pictured cooking in his cab.
Traditionally there Christmas is celebrated between January 6 and 19.
Others were marking the occasion at Manston, the former airport turned lorry park and now mass Covid-19 testing site.
Some 1,100 troops have been drafted in to get them home.
They are joined by 30 French firefighters and 60 Polish soldiers and are testing the drivers, from across Europe, for the virus.
The Ministry of Defence confirmed an extra 800 personnel will join 300 already at the port today.
Adding: "While significant progress has been made, with hundreds of vehicles already departing the UK, there is a need for increased testing as more vehicles continue to arrive every hour."
Ante Kostelac is one driver stuck at Manston and posted: "Hello France! Don't worry, we're parked at the airport Manston. Our families, wives, children, parents, they don’t need us. We haven't been together all year, you're right, why should we be together now...."
He added: "At this time when everyone should be with their families, you have decided to play political games, separate thousands of families, show us, truck drivers, what you think of us, how much you care about us.
"In case you forgot, earlier this year, in the spring, during the biggest pandemic, you thanked us, applauded, called us heroes. Still, that was the biggest lie, you only thought of yourself.
"Don't worry, I don't wish you all the worst, in fact I wish you a Merry Christmas and all the best, and I will, just as you think, spend Christmas like a dog, in a cabin, alone, a thousand miles away from my family. Thank you from the bottom of my heart! Greetings and stay well!"
Last night 2,300 had tested negative while three were positive and have to isolate in hotels.
Despite the travel ban - imposed by French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday after news a new Covid-19 strain was "out of control" - being lifted nearly three days ago, it's been challenging to get the backlog cleared.
By yesterday afternoon ferry company DFDS had only been able to take 144 lorries home since the border reopened despite having capacity for 4,000.
At least 6,000 HGVs were stranded in Kent at one point and while some have since left hundreds of drivers face days at Manston Airport with 2,300 tested for Covid-19 so far.
DFDS says logistical issues have hampered efforts to repatriate stranded truckers - and was calling for staff to work on Christmas Day after the traditional port closure was lifted.
It's expected clearing the remaining HGVs will take days.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced the border will stay today and across the festive period.
He tweeted yesterday: "As testing in Kent continues (latest figures & outcomes soon) I've spoken to my French counterpart @Djebbari_JB & we've agreed the UK/French border at Eurotunnel, Dover & Calais WILL remain open throughout Xmas in order to help hauliers & citizens return home as soon as possible."
At Manston Airport food is being passed to drivers over the fence. But they claim while toilets are available there are no shower facilities.
Attela Kaliman and Robert Henstencz speak about life at Manston
In Ashford, residents responded to a plea on Facebook from a German driver who desperately wanted a shower by organising for truckers to use a nearby Holiday Inn.
The motorway remains shut in both direction to allow for Operation Stack - essentially a holding pen - between 8 (for Leeds Castle and 9 for Ashford) and all the way from 8 (for Leeds Castle) to 13 (for Folkestone) on the coast bound section.
This is in addition to the 4,000 capacity (revised down to 3,800 to allow for testing) at Manston.
On Tuesday morning scuffles broke out at Dover between police and frustrated drivers who, having been stranded at the port for days, were seeing other lorries coming from Manston and entering.
Those in Dover were being tested in their vehicles from about 4pm in an attempt to clear the gridlock - although drivers are still being told to head to Manston, with others being diverted to a centre on Sheppey.
The first few cars and lorries were seen heading for a ferry after receiving a negative Covid test at around 6pm. There were reports this seemed to stop at around 9pm and that tension was starting to flare again.
There were also stand offs at Manston as drivers attempted to leave and others enter. Later in the day an army of people arrived to get food and drink to the drivers.
Graham Pask from the Road Haulage Association called the situation a "humanitarian crisis" and compared the French government to a "dictatorship" "holding lorry drivers hostage".
Talks between the French and the UK governments came to an end on Tuesday evening and the ban was lifted that night.
All drivers, irrespective of nationality, require a lateral flow test. This can detect the new strain of Covid-19 and provide results in around 30 minutes, rather than the 24 hours required after a PCR test.
The French government will also carry out sample testing on incoming freight to the UK.
If drivers test positive they must isolate in hotels, the initial cost of which will be picked up by the government.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said after the deal was made with the French: "I am pleased that we have made this important progress with our French counterparts this evening.
"This protocol will see the French border reopen to those travelling for urgent reasons, provided they have a certified negative Covid test.
"We continue to urge hauliers not to travel to Kent until further notice as we work to alleviate congestion."
Rules for drivers will be temporarily relaxed to allow them to get through quickly.
A group of men headed to Lenham bridge today (Dec 25) to gift some frustrated drivers a Christmas Day beer.
Lyndon Edney said: "Mem my father, brother and friend went to Lenham bridge and dropped beers over to the lorry drivers with a bucket and a rope.
"We just wanted to make their day as they are going through a tough time.
"They were delighted and it was great to see the smiles on their faces.
"Hopefully This will inspire more to do something similar."