Saturday

16th Dec 2017

Ukraine celebrates visa-free travel with EU love show

  • Sisters Sasha and Karina celebrated Ukraine's visa-free travel on Saturday. (Photo: Aleksandra Eriksson)

The EU lifted visa requirements for Ukrainian citizens on Sunday (11 June), in a move that sparked joy and expectations of a better future as an aspiring EU country.

Thousands of people flocked to Kiev's European square on Saturday for free concerts and an official countdown to midnight.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Vadim, a 20-year-old economics student, dreams of Rome. (Photo: Aleksandra Eriksson)

Musical performances included a Ukrainian version of Beethoven's Ode to Joy, which is the EU's anthem.

Also on stage was pop singer Ruslana, who performed the Hutsul folklore-inspired "Wild Dances" - the song that won her the 2004 Eurovision song contest.

"Go, go to Europe!" Ruslana told the audience. "But then make sure to come back, because no place is more beautiful than Ukraine!".

The celebrations featured president Petro Poroshenko, who hailed the success of Ukraine and said visa-free travel marked the country's final and irreversible break with Moscow.

"Farewell, unwashed Russia, land of slaves, land of lords," he told the crowds, quoting Russian poet Mikhail Lermontov.

"Today, every Ukrainian can drink fantastic coffee in Bratislava, or fly on a low-cost flight to Warsaw, or visit the Vienna opera," Ukraine's head of state said.

Galina, a middle-aged kindergarten teacher, said that she would not be going anywhere, however.

She could not afford much on her salary.

But she had brought her young grand-daughters, Sasha and Karina, to listen to the concerts and "celebrate European values", which she defined as "openness and diversity".

As the girls danced and played, Galina told EUobserver that she hoped the fact Ukraine had qualified for a visa waiver would help to enact these values.

"Maybe more EU nationals will now come to Ukraine?" the kindergarten teacher said.

But other people at the square were certain that they would soon be packing their bags for the EU.

Vadim, a 20-year old economics student, already started preparing for this day one year ago, when he applied to secure a biometric passport.

Such documents allow Ukrainian citizens to enter the Schengen area without a visa for up to 90 days, for the purpose of tourism or business trips, but Ukrainians are not allowed to take up work in the EU. Recent media reports said some 3 million Ukrainians had biometric passports.

Vadim said he would split his summer holidays between volunteering with an organisation that helps Ukraine's war refugees, and a visit to Italy.

"I've always dreamt of going to Rome!", he said.

Igor was 40, but a weather-beaten face made him look older. He sat on a security fence waving a huge EU flag and had two smaller ones stuck in the front pockets of his jacket.

For many years, he had worked odd jobs in Poland and Germany, and picked up their languages.

"By July, I will be in Germany again," he said.

When told that visa-free travel did not grant Ukrainian citizens a right to work, Igor said he would find a way - just as he had in the past.

Worries of a visa "brake"

The European Commission suggested already in December 2015 that the bloc should waive visas for Ukraine and Georgia.

But the deal was delayed after some EU states, including Germany, worried that people would use their new-found rights to work illegally or seek asylum in their countries.

Visa liberalisation had been postponed until EU countries worked out a mechanism, a so-called "visa brake" that could be triggered in case of massive overstays or bogus asylum claims, to suspend visa freedom.

Ukraine has taken precautionary measures against any such developments.

On Sunday, border guards at the Borispol airport presented Ukrainian citizens with information leaflets clarifying their rights and duties, and this information was also given to international train passengers.

The EU border agency, Frontex, also sent officers to Ukraine to assist its border guards in case of questions.

Ukrainian border officials expect a 30 percent rise in passenger traffic.

Ukraine's deputy PM in charge of EU integration, Ivanna Klympush, called on EU nations to "show patience".

"Many people could be travelling in the next days because they waited until the introduction of visa-free travel to take their holidays," she suggested.

She spoke to journalists as she prepared to wave off "the first visa-free train" on Sunday morning.

A 7AM train took passengers from Kiev to Przemysl, a small Polish town close to the Ukrainian border.

In the run-up to the visa waiver, Ukraine's national railways have begun providing more direct lines to Poland, and Ukraine has also seen the emergence of low-cost airlines.

Deputy PM Ivanna Klympush sees off a visa-free passenger to Poland. (Photo: Aleksandra Eriksson)

Ukraine's EU aspirations

Klympush said Ukraine had achieved everything it had been asked for by the EU.

In exchange for the visa waiver, Ukraine had fulfilled 144 criteria set by the bloc.

These included: anti-corruption reforms; tighter border control; a fight against organised crime, and reforms to enhance the respect for the rule of law and human rights.

Human rights activist-turned-MP, Svitlana Zalishchuk, said however that the pace of reforms could slow down in the wake of the visa waiver.

"Some very important reforms were very difficult to achieve even as they were necessary for visa liberalisation," Zalishchuk told EUobserver in an interview last week.

The parliament, for instance, had to vote six times before finding the majority behind a law that would give LGBT Ukrainians protection against discrimination.

Ukraine and the EU started visa liberalisation talks in 2005, but these were stalled after Viktor Yanukovych came to power in 2010.

Yanukovych's refusal to bring Ukraine closer to the EU ignited protests, which eventually became a 2014 revolution that ousted the ruler and later saw Poroshenko elected on a pro-European ticket.

Russia responded to Ukraine's pro-EU ambitions by annexing Crimea and fabricating an uprising in eastern Ukraine.

In the past few days, Russian media has portrayed visa-free travel as an opportunity for the EU to exploit Ukraine and its cheap labour force, buy its fertile land and use the country as a dumping ground for European chemical waste.

Netherlands ratifies EU-Ukraine treaty

Dutch senate approves ratification, despite a majority of referendum voters expressing opposition last year. The Netherlands should show 'reliability', one senator said.

EU visa waiver looms for Russia-annexed Crimeans

Visa liberalisation for Ukrainians entering the EU will also apply to inhabitants of the peninsula taken over by Moscow in 2014. But the issue poses administrative as well as political problems.

Interview

EU visa waiver unlikely to import Ukraine crime

Visa-free travel, which began last week, unlikely to prompt a Ukrainian crime wave, an EU police expert has said, but Ukraine itself is seeing increases in lawlessness.

EU extends sanctions on Russia

German chancellor Angela Merkel said that Russia hadn't done enough to implement the so-called Minsk peace process, a condition for lifting the sanctions.

Interview

EU outshines Russia in Western Balkans

Russia cannot compete with the EU for attractiveness in the Western Balkans, but can play an 'obstructive' role, Albania's foreign minister said.

News in Brief

  1. EU adopts 'track-and-trace' tobacco system
  2. Luxembourg appeals Amazon tax decision
  3. EU leaders agree to open phase 2 of Brexit talks
  4. Juncker: May made 'big efforts' on Brexit
  5. Merkel took 'tough' line on Russia at EU summit
  6. EU leaders added line supporting 'two-state' solution
  7. EU leaders agree to 20 European Universities by 2024
  8. Belgian courts end legal proceedings against Puigdemont

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel
  2. Plastics Recyclers Europe65% plastics recycling rate attainable by 2025 new study shows
  3. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  4. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  5. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  6. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  8. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  9. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  10. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaEU-Armenia Relations in the CEPA Era: What's Next?
  12. Mission of China to the EU16+1 Cooperation Injects New Vigour Into China-EU Ties

Latest News

  1. Catalonia, Brexit, and Uber on EU agenda This WEEK
  2. Macron and Merkel take tough line on Poland
  3. Eurozone future needs structural reforms, EU leaders told
  4. Showdown EU vote on asylum looking likely for next June
  5. EU stresses unity as it launches next phase of Brexit talks
  6. Polish PM ready for EU sanctions scrap
  7. Dutchman to lead powerful euro working group
  8. EU mulls post-Brexit balance of euro and non-eurozone states

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUEU Blacklist of Tax Havens Is a Sham
  2. EU2017EERole of Culture in Building Cohesive Societies in Europe
  3. ILGA EuropeCongratulations to Austria - Court Overturns Barriers to Equal Marriage
  4. Centre Maurits CoppietersCelebrating Diversity, Citizenship and the European Project With Fundació Josep Irla
  5. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceUnderstanding the Social Consequences of Obesity
  6. Union for the MediterraneanMediterranean Countries Commit to Strengthening Women's Role in Region
  7. Bio-Based IndustriesRegistration for BBI JU Stakeholder Forum about to close. Last chance to register!
  8. European Heart NetworkThe Time Is Ripe for Simplified Front-Of-Pack Nutrition Labelling
  9. Counter BalanceNew EU External Investment Plan Risks Sidelining Development Objectives
  10. EU2017EEEAS Calls for Eastern Partnership Countries to Enter EU Market Through Estonia
  11. Dialogue PlatformThe Turkey I No Longer Know
  12. World Vision7 Million Children at Risk in the DRC: Donor Meeting to Focus on Saving More Lives

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSU-Eurelectric-IndustriAllElectricity European Social Partners Stand up for Just Energy Transition
  2. European Friends of ArmeniaSignature of CEPA Marks a Fresh Start for EU-Armenia Relations
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Ministers Pledge to Work More Closely at Nordic and EU Level
  4. European Friends of ArmeniaPresident Sargsyan Joined EuFoA Honorary Council Inaugural Meeting
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsEU Leaders Should Press Azerbaijan President to End the Detention of Critics
  6. CECEKey Stakeholders to Jointly Tackle the Skills Issue in the Construction Sector
  7. European Friends of ArmeniaLaunch of Honorary Council on the Occasion of the Eastern Partnership Summit and CEPA
  8. EPSUStudy Finds TUNED and Employers in Central Governments Most Representative
  9. Mission of China to the EUAmbassador Zhang Ming Received by Tusk; Bright Future for EU-China Relations
  10. EU2017EEEstonia, With the ECHAlliance, Introduces the Digital Health Society Declaration
  11. European Jewish CongressEJC to French President Macron: We Oppose All Contact With Far-Right & Far-Left
  12. ACCASmall and Medium Sized Practices Must 'Offer the Whole Package'