The European Parliament voted overwhelmingly Thursday to grant European Union candidate status to embattled Ukraine, pushing it one step closer to Western allies who have been supplying it with massive amounts of armaments to help it fight off Russia’s four-month-old invasion.
The vote was 529-45, with 14 abstentions. The European Parliament also approved EU candidacy for Georgia and Moldova.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Twitter that this was a "historic moment in Ukraine-EU relations. … Ukraine’s future is within the EU.”
And on Instagram, he said, "We have just received the candidacy. This is our victory.”
The vote came as the U.S. said it was sending $450 million more in military aid to Ukraine, including some additional medium-range rocket systems, on top of the $1 billion in assistance it announced a week ago.
Ukrainian Parliament chair Ruslan Stefanchuk thanked the European lawmakers for their support in a Facebook message, saying, “Ukraine is EU country. And we fight for this right not only on the battlefield but also in the legal sphere.”
In order for the three countries to join the 27-member EU bloc, they will be required to carry out a series of political and economic reforms.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Ukraine “has already implemented roughly 70% of EU rules, norms and standards.” She said, however, that much needed to be done in the areas of “the rule of law, oligarchs, anticorruption and fundamental rights."
The European Council, which comprises the heads of all 27 EU governments, would have the final vote on Ukraine’s membership. The vote must be unanimous. Diplomats say the process could take a decade to complete.
"The Ukrainian people belong to the European family. Ukraine's future is with the EU," the bloc's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said. "Today marks the beginning of a long journey that we will walk together."
The EU leaders gathered in Brussels discussed the impact of Russia’s war in Ukraine on global food security, as well as additional EU economic, military and humanitarian support for Ukraine.
Zelenskyy said Russia was continuing to launch “massive air and artillery strikes” in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region, adding that Russia’s goal was to “destroy the entire Donbas step by step.”
The Ukrainian leader called for faster arms deliveries to help his forces match up against those from Russia.
In fighting, Russia continued its assault in eastern Ukraine, further encroaching on the cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk. If Russia is successful, it will give them control of Luhansk, one of two regions in the Donbas, Ukraine’s industrial heartland.
Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai told The Associated Press that Russian forces were “burning everything out” in an attempt to encircle Ukrainian forces.
"The Russians are advancing without trying to spare the ammunition or troops, and they aren’t running out of either,” Haidai said. “They have an edge in heavy artillery and the number of troops.”
In the neighboring region, Donetsk, regional Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko told Reuters there was no town safe for residents amid increased fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces.
Also Thursday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Britain was willing to help Kyiv in demining off Ukraine's southern coast and providing insurance to ships to help transfer some of the more than 20 million tons of grain stored in the country, Reuters reported.
Ukraine, one of the world’s top food producers, has been unable to export grain since Russia invaded on February 24. The result is a growing global food crisis. Food prices are at record highs as food shortages have left tens of millions of people struggling to eat.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.