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EU leaders grant Ukraine candidate status

Zelensky hails the move as "a unique and historic moment." The countries’ admission to the EU will likely take years, though.

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Ukraine became a candidate to join the European Union (EU) on Thursday, a significant step on the path to full membership triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Starting on the long path to EU membership will be a huge boost to morale in the embattled country as Russian assaults on two cities in the eastern Donbas region move toward a “fearsome climax,” according to a Ukrainian government adviser.

After talks in Brussels, European Council President Charles Michel said on Twitter, “Today marks a crucial step on your path towards the EU” He said, “Our future is together.”

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he “sincerely commends” the EU’s decision, calling it “a unique and historic moment in EU/Ukraine relations.” “Ukraine’s future is within the EU,” he tweeted.

That sets in motion a membership process that could take years or even decades. According to CNN, “the average time it takes to join the EU is four years and 10 months, according to the think tank UK in a Changing Europe. However, some member states in eastern Europe have had to wait as long as 10 years.”

The EU also gave candidate status to the tiny country of Moldova, another former Soviet republic that borders Ukraine.

Ukraine applied for membership less than a week after Moscow invaded on Feb. 24. Thursday’s decision was unusually rapid for the E.U. and its go-slow approach to expansion. But the war and Ukraine’s request for fast-track consideration lent urgency to the cause.

Meanwhile, Russian troops have captured Loskutivka and Rai-Oleksandrivka to the south. According to The Associated Press, Ukraine’s General Staff said Russian forces took control of the villages of Loskutivka and Rai-Oleksandrivka and were trying to capture Syrotyne, a settlement outside the province’s administrative center, Sievierodonetsk. Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Haidai said the Russians were “burning everything out.”

US sends $450m in military aid to Ukraine

The US has sent another $450 million in military aid to Ukraine, including some additional medium-range rocket systems.

The latest package will include a number of High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, and is expected to be announced later Thursday. The initial four HIMARS that the US sent have already gone into Ukraine and are in the hand of troops there. The package will also include ammunition and other supplies.

Overall, since the war began in late February, the US has committed more than $6 billion in security assistance to Ukraine, including this latest package. The latest $450 million will be from drawdown authority, which means the Defense Department will take weapons and equipment from its own stock and ship them to Ukraine.

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