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Poroshenko Hails 'Historic Day' As Visa-Free EU Travel Deal Is Signed


Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (top right) looks on as he attends the signing ceremony for a new visa-liberalization regime with the European Union in Strasbourg on May 17.

STRASBOURG -- Representatives of the European Parliament and the European Council have signed a document in Strasbourg formalizing a long-awaited visa-liberalization deal with Ukraine.

The deal was signed by the president of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, and Malta's Interior Minister Carmelo Abela. Malta currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who was present at the ceremony, said the signing of the agreement represents a landmark in Ukraine's history.

"It is an absolutely historic day for Ukraine, for my 45 million nation, and I am absolutely confident that this is a historic day for the European Union," Poroshenko said after the signing.

"Ukraine returns to the European family. Ukraine says a final farewell to the Soviet and Russian Empire," he said.

Tajani said the visa liberalization was a "good message" to "very pro-European" Ukraine.

"The new rules on visa liberalization are the beginning of a new era," Tajani said.

EU member states gave their approval on May 11, and the visa-free regime is due to enter into force on June 11.

Ukrainian citizens who have biometric passports will be able to enter all EU member states other than Ireland and the United Kingdom without a visa for up to 90 days during any 180-day period. It also applies to four Schengen Area countries that are not in the EU: Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland.

Poroshenko's predecessor, Viktor Yanukovych, was pushed from power in 2014 by massive pro-European protests after he scrapped plans for a deal to tighten ties with the EU. Russia then seized control of Ukraine's Crimea region and fomented separatism in eastern Ukraine, where a war between Russia-backed forces and the government has killed more than 9,900 people.

Much of present-day Ukraine was part of the Russian Empire beginning in the 17th century, and Ukraine was under Moscow's thumb as a Soviet republic for most of the 20th century. It gained independence in the Soviet collapse of 1991.

Visa-free EU travel began on March 28 for citizens of Georgia, another former Soviet republic that is under pressure from Russia.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Marek Hajduk in Strasbourg and Rikard Jozwiak in Brussels
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