Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has hailed the European Union's (EU) decision to grant his country candidate status for accession to the 27-member bloc, saying it was "historic moment" in bilateral ties.
During a two-day summit in Brussels, the European Council on Thursday accepted Ukraine and Moldova as candidates for membership of the bloc.
Just four days after Russia launched its invasion of Kiev on February 24, Zelensky had signed an official appeal to the EU asking for the accession of Ukraine via a new special procedure.
Taking to social media on Thursday night, Zelensky wrote: "One of the most important decisions for Ukraine in all 30 years of independence of our state. However, this decision is not only for Ukraine. This is the biggest step on strengthening Europe that could be taken right now, right in our time, and exactly in such conditions when the Russian war tests our ability to preserve freedom and unity.
"Thanks to the summit of all European leaders. Thank you to our heroes, each and everyone who with weapons in their hands defends Ukraine's independence and the freedom of Europe... Thank you for making a new history of Europe possible, even stronger, even freer."
In a tweet, Zelensky thanked the President of the European Council Charles Michel and the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, adding that it was "a unique and historical moment" in Ukraine-EU ties.
Ukraine's future is within EU
Thursday's development comes after the European Commission published its decision on June 17, in which it recommended recognising Ukraine's European perspective and granting the candidate status.
Candidate status is the first official step towards EU membership. However, observers say even with candidate status, it may take years, if not decades, for Ukraine to obtain EU membership, the BBC reported.
For example, the Western Balkan countries of Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia have been candidate countries for years; in some cases for over a decade.
Bosnia and Herzegovina applied for candidacy in 2016 but has still not succeeded.