By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Ukrainians officially gain visa-free travel to the European Union as early morning arrived on June 11, a move the country’s president earlier welcomed as a “a final ‘goodbye’ to the Russian Empire.”
Ukrainian border officials said they are expecting a 30 percent rise in passenger traffic at control sites along the frontier with the new regulations.
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.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said on June 10 as he counted down the final 12 hours before the start of the travel regime that he believes Ukraine will become a member of both NATO and the EU, and that “nothing, nobody will ever stop us.”
“The words ‘back in the USSR’ will be heard only listening to The Beatles,” Poroshenko said. “We will never return to the Soviet Union because we, a proud and free democratic nation, return to the family of European nations.”
He said the “last sound of the countdown” will mark “the fall of not the concrete Berlin Wall, but the paper curtain that has been separating Ukrainians from the European Family for years.”
“We must return Ukrainians their history. That is why today’s decision of the EU is so important. A long process has been completed. First of all, it goes about the return of Ukraine to its historic place among the European countries, not only about the visa-free border crossing,” Poroshenko told the 1+1 television channel.
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.
Hugues Mingarelli , head of the EU delegation to Ukraine, said at the ceremony that Ukrainians will be able “to travel to 33 countries of West Europe without any visa requirements.”
Mingarelli said the visa-free regime was “just the first step” toward “intensifying relations” between the EU and Ukraine.