Visa-free travel for Ukrainians clears final hurdle

Ukrainian students form a live chain during performance named Ukraine and Europe are strong together! in downtown Kiev, Ukraine, 05 April 2016. [Sergey Dolzhenko/EPA]

The European Council today (11 May) approved visa-free travel for Ukrainians, fulfilling a key promise to cement ties with Kyiv as it remains embroiled in a deadly conflict with Russian-backed rebels.

The EU and Ukraine sealed a so-called Association Agreement after the overthrow of the pro-Moscow government in 2014, with Brussels aiming to bring the Soviet-era satellite into the European fold.

MEPs approve visa-free travel for Ukrainians

The European Parliament today (6 April) supported easing travel rules for Ukrainians, driving on a Western integration viewed with great suspicion by Moscow.

The agreement included the offer of no more visa requirements, a potent symbol of the bloc’s commitment to Kyiv, which has fretted over repeated delays.

A statement by the European Council, which groups the 28 EU member states, said visa liberalisation was “an important development which will help strengthen ties between the people of Ukraine and the EU.”

“It follows the completion of the necessary reforms by Ukraine in a number of areas including migration, public order and security, external relations and fundamental rights,” it said.

The statement noted that the decision followed an EU agreement on a suspension mechanism which allows member states to halt the scheme “if there are serious migration or security issues with Ukraine”.

Under the new scheme, Ukrainians with biometric passports can travel in the EU without a visa for 90 days in any 180-day period, for tourism, business or family visits — but not to work.

The deal does not apply to Ireland or Britain.

Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos also welcomed the Council’s decision. “Ukraine has come a long way and today this is recognised and rewarded, he said in a statement, adding that “visa-free travel will bring important benefits for citizens on both sides”.

Georgia, whose country fought a brief but bitter war with Russia in 2008, won a similar EU visa-free travel scheme this year.

Russia annexed Crimea shortly after the Ukraine’s popular uprising in 2014 and Kiev has been battling pro-Russia rebels in eastern Ukraine ever since.

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