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Ukraine-EU bid: Commission response 'by end of next week' on Kyiv's ambitions, says von der Leyen

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, on a surprise visit to Kyiv on Saturday, promised a response "next week" to Ukraine's ambitions to apply for EU membership.

"We want to support Ukraine in its European journey," von der Leyen said at a short press conference following her meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, as fighting continued in the east with Russian soldiers who invaded the country on 24 February.

"The discussions today will enable us to finalise our assessment by the end of next week," she added, in order for the Commission to make a recommendation to member states.

Von der Leyen stressed that the Ukrainian authorities had "done a lot" regarding the country's candidacy, saying it was already "on a good track" even before Russia's "horrible and atrocious invasion".

She praised Ukraine's "solid, well-grounded" parliamentary and presidential system, praising its administration despite "incredible circumstances", and citing the high level of digitisation and decentralisation reforms.

The focus was on overcoming the war, the president added, but said more reforms were needed, especially in the fight against corruption and encouraging investment.

The head of the European Commission was also due to meet Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Chmygal during this visit to Kyiv, her second since the start of the war, the previous one having taken place on 8 April.

Ursula von der Leyen was given a short tour of Maidan Square in Kyiv following her meeting with Zelenskyy, visiting the historic area in the city.

For his part, Zelenskyy said EU membership would be positive for the European project, given Vladimir Putin's actions.

"The whole of Europe is a target for Russia, and Ukraine is only the first stage of the aggression in these plans," the Ukrainian president told the news briefing alongside von der Leyen.

"That's why the European Union's positive response to Ukraine's application for membership can be a positive response to the question of whether the European project has a future at all."

Zelenskyy called for a new round of “even stronger” EU sanctions against Russia, targeting more officials including judges, and to hamper the activities of all Russian banks, including gas giant Gazprom's bank, as well as all Russian companies helping Moscow “in any way”.

Ukraine is demanding a concrete "legal commitment" by the end of June from the Europeans to obtain official candidate status for entry into the European Union, but the 27 countries are still very divided on the issue at this stage.

While many countries, mainly in Eastern Europe, support Ukraine's membership, some, such as the Netherlands and Denmark, but also Germany and France, which holds the EU presidency until the end of June, are more reserved.

And even if Ukraine is granted "candidate status", this will launch a process of negotiations and potential reforms that could take years, even decades, before it is on the verge of joining the EU. Several EU states have thus dampened Kyiv's hopes for an "accelerated" process.

During her previous visit on 8 April, Ursula von der Leyen assured that Ukraine had a "European future".

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