Under the regulation, Ukrainian citizens holding a biometric passport can travel to an EU country for up to 90 days out of any 180-day period for business, tourism or family purposes. The measure will not apply to Ireland and the UK, while travellers will not be permitted to work or reside in EU member states.
“YES, we did it!”, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko wrote on Facebook after Thursday’s decision, which Ukraine had been trying to clinch for years.
Talks between Kiev and Brussels on a liberalised visa deal began in 2008 but the European Commission only gave the green light in 2015.
“It feels like coming home after a long and exhausting journey,” Poroshenko said, adding that Ukraine was gradually “becoming part of a common European civilization”.
The EU and Ukraine sealed a broad trade and political association agreement after the ousting of President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014. The agreement included the offer of the removal of visa requirements.
According to Carmelo Abela, the Maltese minister for home affairs and national security, the approval follows the completion of “necessary reforms” by Ukraine in a number of areas including “migration, public order and security, external relations and fundamental rights”.
The European Council said in a statement that that the decision followed an EU agreement on a suspension mechanism that would allow member states to halt the scheme “if there are serious migration or security issues with Ukraine”.
The decision was welcomed by the European Commission which said in a statement that, “visa-free travel to the Schengen area will soon become a reality – it is an important and well-deserved moment for Ukraine and its citizens that will make our already close relations even stronger”.
The regulations will enter into force 20 days after being signed by the Council on May 17 in Strasbourg and published in the EU Official Journal.
Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014 following Yanukovich’s overthrow, saying the peninsula had voted overwhelmingly in favour of returning to its Russian homeland.
Kiev remains embroiled in a deadly conflict with pro-Russian fighters ever since.