EU Commission supports candidate status for Ukraine

KYIV, Ukraine — The European Union’s executive arm on Friday recommended that Ukraine be granted candidate status to one day join the 27-nation bloc.

The pledge to join a union created to safeguard peace on the continent has deep symbolism for the nation at war. But it’s just the first step in a process that could take decades.

And it has not silenced the guns and artillery that continue to kill civilians and flatten cities, as well as send millions of people fleeing their homes since Russia launched its invasion of its neighbor on Feb. 24.

Russia has pressed its attacks on cities in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region, leaving desperate residents struggling to understand what the next few years hold for them.

“We are old, we have nowhere to go. Where will I go?” asked Vira Miedientseva, one of the elderly residents dealing with the aftermath of Thursday’s attack on Lysychansk, which is across the river from Sievierodonsk, a major focus of battles in recent weeks that the Russians nearly captured.

The European Commission’s recommendation is the first step on the long road to accession and comes a day after four EU leaders pledged to support Kyiv’s candidacy. The recommendation will be discussed by leaders of the 27-nation bloc during a summit next week in Brussels. The launch of accession negotiations requires the unanimous approval of all member countries.

The war has increased pressure on EU governments to accelerate Ukraine’s candidate status. But the process is expected to take years, and EU members remain divided over how quickly and whether to open their arms to new members.

In other developments:

— The Ukrainian navy said on Friday that it hit a Russian boat carrying air defense systems to a strategic island in the Black Sea. In a statement on social media, the navy said the Vasily Bekh was used to transport ammunition, weapons and personnel to Cobra Island, which is vital to protecting the shipping lanes of Odesa’s main port. He didn’t say how much damage he inflicted with the attack.

Snake Island, located about 35 kilometers off the coast, featured memorably at the start of the war, when Ukrainian border guards stationed there defied Russian surrender orders, using colorful language that later became a cry of war. There was no immediate reaction from Russian authorities on the Ukrainian allegation.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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