The EU council has decided to offer Ukraine a visa-free regime , wrote Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on his Facebook page on May 11.
“The EU Council of Ministers has just accepted a final decision to offer us Ukrainian citizens the right to travel without a visa. On May 17 in Strasbourg, in the European Parliament building, as we agreed with our European friends, the relevant legislative act will be signed. This will probably be one of my most important visits in my three years of service as the head of the Ukrainian state,” he said. According to the president, after the decision is published in the official EU journal, it will come into force.
“Around June 11, 34 European countries will give the green light to owners of Ukrainian biometric passports for visa-free short-term trips,” Poroshenko added. The President pointed out that “the visa-free regime is far more than a simplified way to go abroad, it is a gigantic step in Europe towards the affirmation of human liberty and the independence of our state”.
Dimitris Avramopoulos, European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, welcomed the EU Council’s ruling on the visa-free scheme, his press-service reported.
“One year ago, I was in Kyiv to personally congratulate the Ukrainian government for the tremendous efforts they have made to implement the reforms set out under the visa liberalization process. Today, I am pleased to see that we are reaching the end of the process and I welcome the Council's adoption of visa liberalization for Ukraine – a final step towards visa-free travel to the Schengen area for Ukrainian Citizens,” the press release reads.
Avramopoulos added that the decision is “an acknowledgment of the successful and far-reaching reforms carried out by Ukraine”. He observed that the introduction of a visa-free regime will “reinforce social, cultural and economic ties between the EU and Ukraine”.
In an interview in Kyiv, French Ambassador to Ukraine Isabelle Dumont told reporters that France welcomes the visa-free scheme being offered to Ukrainians.
“We are naturally very happy. We have been waiting for May 11 for a long time, and now we are already getting close to the end. In principle, this means that already by June 11, visas for three months [in the EU] will not be necessary for Ukrainians with biometric passports,” Dumont said. When asked whether Europe is afraid of a possible mass influx of Ukrainians in future, she responded, “That is not for us to be afraid of, but the Ukrainian authorities. I know that they view this seriously, because if Ukraine loses its workforce, it will be a problem first and foremost for Ukraine”. The country does “lose” many people on an annual basis. “A way out of this must be found. And the way out is reforms, to change the country so that people will want to stay here,” Dumont believes.
Ukrainians residing in the territories which are not controlled by Ukraine will also be able to make use of the visa-free scheme. This was noted by Iryna Herashchenko, First Deputy Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada and the President’s Humanitarian Envoy to the Trilateral Contact Group in Minsk.
“Crimeans, who are currently under occupation, and our regular citizens who are in the occupied territories of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions also received a very clear signal today: they are citizens of Ukraine, and the visa-free regime applies to all citizens of Ukraine,” Herashchenko stated.
Russia has reacted to the Ukrainian news about the visa-free scheme. Alexey Meshkov, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, said that the visa-free program for Ukraine “cannot be considered fully-fledged”, and called it “a carrot on a string”, which “only slightly alleviates the current system”.
Meshkov emphasized the fact that three months in the EU every half year has nothing to do with permission to work.
Gigantic EU flags have been put up at regional centers of Ukraine in support of the visa-free regime. The first EU flag appeared on a regional state organization building in Kharkiv on May 10, regional state organization head Yulia Svetlichnaya reported. She encouraged other regions to support flash-mobs. By May 11, a gigantic EU flag had appeared in Zhitomir and in Kyiv. There are also plans to hoist the EU flag on the very highest flagpole in Zaporizhia, on Khortytsia Island. The decision on the visa-free regime has been celebrated similarly in Uzhgorod, Rivne and Kherson.