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Juncker: Ukraine Must Reform to Get EU Visa-free Travel

FILE - Travelers check a departures board at Borispol International Airport, near Kyiv, Ukraine.

The European Union wants Ukraine to pass a set of judiciary and human rights reforms before granting Ukrainian citizens visa-free access to the 28 countries of the bloc, the head of the EU Commission told Ukraine's president in a letter on Thursday.

Grappling with pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country and a shattered economy, Ukrainian authorities are keen to obtain better terms in their relations with the EU.

An agreement on visa-free travel for Ukrainian citizens to the European Union is seen in Kyiv as a key priority to be achieved next year, when a free-trade pact with the EU is expected to come into force despite Russian opposition.

"Progress in reforms in the area of the fight against corruption remains a key priority for achieving visa-free travel to the EU for Ukrainian citizens," EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in the letter seen by Reuters.

EU visa-free travel agreements usually concern specific groups of people who are more likely to travel, such as researchers, businessmen or students.

In the document, sent to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Juncker urges quick establishment of independent anti-corruption bodies to reduce graft in the ex-Soviet state.

Ukraine should also amend labor legislation to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and should create an agency dedicated to the recovery of confiscated assets, Juncker told Poroshenko.