"Europe isn't just geography. It's a set of values and Ukraine is fighting for them."
Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelenskyy hailed a historic decision after Brussels endorsed the country to be a candidate for EU membership.
The European Commission said on Friday it was recommending Ukraine -- and its neighbour Moldova -- begin the long road to joining the bloc.
The leaders of EU countries will make the final decision at a summit next week.
Georgia, which also applied for EU membership following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, was told it wasn't ready yet and needed to carry out further anti-corruption and judicial reforms.
Ukraine announced its formal wish to join the EU just days after Russia invaded.
Zelenskyy put out a statement commending today's recommendation from the European Commission, saying it was the first step on the path to EU membership for his country.
"I expect the positive result from the European Council next week," he wrote.
Moldovan Prime Minister Maia Sandu said that candidate status was made on the understanding that additional efforts will be taken to advance on reforms already started. "We’re committed to working hard and count on the EU Council's support," she wrote.
Nicu Popescu, Moldova's foreign minister, meanwhile, said he was "beyond thrilled" with the EU Commission's support.
"We are fully committed to keeping up the good work, pushing ahead with reforms and bringing Moldova into the EU," he said.
Strong support across the EU
Leaders of EU nations will have the final say at a summit in Brussels on 23-24 June, but there are signs that the move has broad support across the bloc.
“I strongly welcome Von der Leyen and the EU Commission’s positive recommendation on granting Ukraine EU candidate country status,” wrote Estonian president Kaja Kallas on Twitter after the announcement was made. "Europe isn't just geography. It's a set of values and Ukraine is fighting for them."
Manfred Weber, leader of the European People's Party (EPP), said the EPP fully supports granting candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova.
“They choose for Europe’s freedom and against Putin's tyranny. We expect EU leaders to confirm this historic step at next week’s European Council,” he wrote on social media.
“As European leaders hinted beforehand, Georgia`s geographical position has hindered our country to get the status," said Irakli Kobakhidze, chairman of Georgia Dream, the ruling party in the country.
"We do hope that the geographical factor will no more become the reason of stalling granting candidacy status to Georgia in the future.
"Although candidacy status does not grant a country any financial and material privileges, of course it is heartbreaking for us that Georgia could not receive the status."