The European Union approved visa-free travel for Ukrainians on Thursday, fulfilling a key promise to cement ties with Kiev as it remains embroiled in a deadly conflict with pro-Russian insurgents.

“YES, we did it!” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko wrote on Facebook after the Brussels decision, which the former Soviet republic has been trying to clinch for years.

“It feels like coming home after a long and exhausting journey,” the pro-Western leader said, adding that Ukraine was gradually “becoming part of a common European civilisation”.

The European Union and Ukraine sealed a broad trade and political association agreement after the overthrow of Kiev’s Russian-backed government in 2014, with Brussels aiming to bring the Soviet-era satellite into the European fold.

The agreement included the offer of the removal of visa requirements, a potent symbol of the bloc’s commitment to Kiev, which has fretted over repeated delays.

A statement by the European Council, which groups the 28 EU member states, said visa liberalisation was “an important development which will help strengthen ties between the people of Ukraine and the EU”.

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