It’s not easy to think about the future of your country when faced with the sound of air raids and Russian artillery attempting to wipe Ukrainian cities and towns off the face of the earth.
But while the Ukrainian army, still vastly under-equipped, is heroically fighting for the country's survival, we must take care of Ukraine’s future too.
Ukrainians see our future as members of the European Union (EU) and want to see candidate status granted at the upcoming European Council on 23-24 June.
The stars are aligned for this crucial decision
There is unprecedented support for the EU inside Ukraine.
As of April 2022, 91% of Ukrainians support joining the bloc, including 82 per cent in eastern Ukraine, according to a poll by the Rating research agency.
Equally, there is unprecedented support for Ukraine’s future membership in European societies. Even in the most sceptical countries -- Germany and Netherlands -- more than 60% of the population are in favour.
In a Eurobarometer poll published last month, the largest share of respondents in favour of Ukraine joining the EU was in Portugal at 87 per cent, well above the EU average.
Granting Ukraine candidate status will send a clear message to Putin that Ukraine will never become a part of Russia.
While uncertainty about Ukraine’s future persists, it allows the Russian leader to dream about occupying our state and emboldens him to continue the war with hope. A strong political commitment to Ukraine from the EU will make Putin’s fight for Ukraine simply pointless.
Candidate status would also have very practical benefits for Ukraine’s ongoing transformation. It would help anchor reforms and rebuild Ukraine after the war. It would open the door for European companies -- not Chinese or Turkish -- to participate in post-war reconstruction, the scale of which will turn Ukraine into one of the biggest construction sites in the world.
We are not looking for shortcuts
The people of Ukraine are not asking for anything extraordinary. We are not looking for shortcuts that don’t respect the EU’s procedures.
Ukraine is literally paying for its freedom and European future in blood. As the only country in the continent where people died with the EU flags in their hands, it is fully qualified to be granted EU candidacy.
We know we are not ready to become a member, but we are ready to become a candidate country.
This view is strongly shared by those who proved to be the most committed to reforms in Ukraine for decades – its civil society.
More than 200 reform-oriented Ukrainian NGOs from across the country recently signed a letter to European leaders asking them to grant Ukraine candidate status this month. Such an appeal has never been seen in Ukraine’s history.
Any attempt to substitute candidate status for something less meaningful -- such as potential candidate status, with a list of preconditions for securing candidate status -- would not be accepted in Ukraine.
There is no justification for withholding Ukraine’s candidate status when it was provided to Turkey in 1999, North Macedonia in 2005 and Montenegro in 2010.
We recognise that other factors are at play in the EU, even though most of those concerns are not directly related to Ukraine, such as the need for internal EU reform or the desire to make a progress with the accession process of Western Balkans countries first.
But both Ukraine and the EU will have enough time to reform simultaneously before Ukraine becomes a full-fledged member of the bloc. And Ukraine’s aspiration will not negatively impact the Western Balkans but, instead, give new impetus to all enlargement journeys.
A future outside the EU is more uncertain
We also understand the dissatisfaction in some European capitals precipitated by previous waves of the EU enlargement.
However, we believe a future outside of the EU is far more precarious, for our country and for Europe more broadly.
While observing Ukraine-EU relations for almost 20 years, I have been constantly observing how skilful the EU became in looking for a pretext to say “no” to Ukraine’s EU aspirations.
For many politicians and diplomats, it was a real challenge to recognise Ukraine as a European state.
Today, with so many credible reasons in its favour, the time has finally come to say “yes” to Ukraine and its European future.
Alyona Getmanchuk is the founder and director of the New Europe Center think tank in Kyiv, Ukraine.