Lesia Vasylenko is a Ukrainian lawyer and politician serving as a people’s deputy in the ninth Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada.
Ukraine has proven its commitment to the European Union many times over, and in many different ways — from physically fighting for the right to choose to amending its constitution and legislative framework to conform to EU standards.
Every step taken toward Ukraine’s EU integration also means a distancing from Russia. And having submitted its emergency application to join the Union, the country now finds itself at a crucial point on its European path.
Ukraine’s devastating sacrifices started in 2013, when millions took to the streets for the country’s right to become an associated member of the EU.
Since then, the country has lived through many tragic battles and seen many heroes fall, but it has also reformed its constitution to reflect its commitment to the EU accession path and worked hard to complete 63 percent of its association agreement, despite ongoing war, occupied territories and a global pandemic.
There is a deep understanding of belonging to the EU family from the people of Ukraine as well, with 91 percent of Ukrainians supporting EU integration today.
And according to the last opinion polls, the feeling seems to be mutual. In 26 out of 27 EU member countries, support for Ukraine’s accession exceeds well beyond 50 percent of public opinion.
But by no means is Ukraine asking for a free ride, or looking to exploit the solidarity that European nations have shown in the face of Russian aggression.
Rather, the country has made enormous strides in transforming from a post-Soviet economy and society into a free market economy, pluralistic democracy, vibrant civil society and law-abiding member of the international community.
Economically, Ukraine is already deeply integrated into the EU, as national legislation is long-aligned with EU directives in the energy, digital and customs sectors. And the EU has a lot to gain from accepting Ukraine as a member as well.
The economic benefits seem obvious: Ukraine offers a potentially booming market with a highly skilled workforce. It is a large-scale consumer market, ready to absorb goods and services coming from EU countries; and in terms of housing, infrastructure development, communications and renewable energy, Ukraine presents a big investment opportunity for the EU. As an agricultural country, it is key to global food security as well.
If the voice of the people and the economic arguments are not enough, however, there is also the undeniable fact of collective security on the Continent — Ukraine is key to that.
The Ukrainian army is the watchdog of Europe’s values in the east, and it fights for freedom and democracy, as they are in the national DNA.
As war reigns again over Europe and Russia’s aggression spreads across Ukraine, democracy, independence and national sovereignty are all at stake. And Ukraine is fighting for it all. If Ukraine wins, democracy wins. If Ukraine falls, the world order will be reshaped in the wrong direction.
The global community simply cannot afford to lose to Russian President Vladimir Putin. For one, the EU would definitely not benefit from an extended border with Russia.
But Ukraine’s EU membership could finally put an end to any illusions the Kremlin may still hold about binding Ukraine to any other union — whether Russian or Asia-centric. If the choice is made, there will not be much left for Russia to fight for, and it may finally be a step toward normalizing relations on the Continent.
With all the sacrifices made, homework done and commitment shown, Ukraine will simply not understand if it doesn’t receive EU candidate status in June — nor will the people of Europe.
It is now up to EU leaders to guide Europe toward regaining freedom, and with it, a long-lasting peace.