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KYIV: President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Ukraine’s formal candidature to join the European Union was a big step towards strengthening Europe at a time when Russia was testing its freedom and unity.

Russia continued its massive assault in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region on Friday – with the day marking four months since President Vladimir Putin invaded its neighbour, sparking the biggest conflict in Europe since World War Two, killing thousands, uprooting millions and reducing cities to rubble.

It has also fuelled a global energy and food crisis.

After failing to gain a quick victory by capturing Kyiv, Putin’s forces are now focused on taking control of eastern Ukraine in what has become a war of attrition, with no end in sight, and the risk that the conflict could widen in Europe.

Zelenskiy told EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday that their decision to accept Kyiv’s candidacy was among the most important for Ukraine since it broke from the Soviet Union 31 years ago.

“But this decision is not just being made for the benefit of Ukraine. It is the biggest step towards strengthening Europe that could have been made right now, in our time, and when the Russian war is testing our ability to preserve freedom and unity,” he said.

European Council chief Charles Michel tweeted after the decision: “A historic moment”, adding “Our future is together.” The approval of Kyiv’s EU candidacy will anger Russia, which has been concerned with Ukraine’s closer ties with the West.

Moscow launched its “special military operation” on Feb. 24 to ensure security on its borders.

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