Ukraine has been approved as a candidate for EU membership by the European Union's executive arm, a first step on what is anticipated to be a lengthy road for the war-torn country to join the 27-nation bloc.
Ukraine filed for membership in the European Union on 28 February 2022, shortly after being invaded by Russia.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy asked for immediate admittance under a "new special procedure," while the presidents of eight EU countries advocated for a speedier process.
Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, declared that she supported Ukraine joining the EU, but that the process would take time.
Nearly four months on, four European Union leaders visited Ukraine on Thursday (16 June), promising to support Kyiv’s bid to become an official candidate for membership in the EU in a high-profile display of support for the country fighting a Russian invasion.
The leaders arrived in Kyiv to the sound of air raid sirens and proceeded to Irpin, a suburb of the city that saw significant fighting early in the war that resulted in the deaths of many civilians.
While devastating images of such devastation have bolstered Western backing of Ukraine in the conflict, officials have expressed concerns that "war fatigue" could weaken that support - particularly as rising prices and forthcoming US elections dominate people’s concerns.
Here is everything you need to know about it.
What happened during the visit?
The visit by French President Emmanuel Macron and the leaders of Germany, Italy, and Romania carried significant symbolic weight in the face of Kyiv’s fears that Western resolve to assist it may diminish.
France, Germany and Italy have come under fire for continuing to engage with Russian President Vladimir Putin – and for failing to give Ukraine the scale of weaponry it says it needs to defend itself.
Many in Ukraine hope that the leaders’ visit will be a watershed moment, paving a path for additional large weapons shipments.
The United States and its European allies have provided Ukraine with billions of dollars in weapons; Germany and the US also recently announced further arms supplies.
Such weapons have been crucial to Ukraine’s remarkable success in preventing the Russians from capturing the capital, but officials in Kyiv have stated that considerably more will be required if Moscow’s soldiers are to be driven out.
European allies have delivered powerful weapons and rallied alongside Ukraine more than many expected, approving wave after wave of sanctions against Russia that are putting Europe’s economy under severe strain.
However, as Russian forces intensify their onslaught in the eastern Donbas region, slowly but surely gaining ground on outmanned and outgunned Ukrainian forces, more is needed.
Which countries are backing Ukraine to join the EU?
Following a meeting with Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the leaders of Germany, Italy, Romania, and France stated that Ukraine be granted candidate status for EU admission immediately.
A day later, Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod stated that the Danish government is willing to support granting Ukraine candidate status for EU membership if the European Commission makes a favourable proposal.
Previously, the presidents of eight EU member states (Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, the Republic of Latvia, the Republic of Lithuania, the Republic of Poland, the Slovak Republic, and the Republic of Slovenia) signed an open letter on 1 March, urging Ukraine to be given the opportunity to join the EU and to begin negotiations immediately.
What does joining the EU mean for the war?
The leaders’ visit also comes as EU leaders prepare to make a judgement on Ukraine’s application to join the bloc next week.
Joining the EU would assist Ukraine in regaining its footing and recovering from the war once it comes to an end.
Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Premier Mario Draghi, who represent the EU’s three largest economies, have previously been chastised for not travelling to Kyiv sooner.
Even when the conflict was much closer to the capital than it is now, a number of prominent European politicians made the arduous journey to demonstrate solidarity with a nation under siege.
Macron addressed criticism of France’s approach, especially his recent remark that Russia should not be "humiliated," which angered Ukrainians. France has been at Ukraine’s side since the first day,” he insisted.
His office also produced a list of his conversations with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, as well as the dates of those conversations.
Since fighting began, they have spoken on the phone 23 times, with Macron speaking with Putin 11 times, including three times with Scholz.
Scholz had avoided visiting Kyiv for a long time, claiming that he didn’t want to “join the queue of people who do a quick in-out for a photo opportunity.” Instead, a trip should focus on accomplishing "concrete things.”
As the fighting in the eastern Donbas region drags on, Macron also promised Ukraine six additional powerful truck-mounted artillery cannons, the latest in a new series of Western arms commitments for Ukraine.
At a press conference, Macron stated that the leaders are "doing everything" to allow Ukraine to choose its own course.
Germany declared on Wednesday (15 June) that it will supply Ukraine with three multiple-launch rocket systems, which Kyiv has stated it urgently requires.