BRUSSELS/KYIV (Reuters) -Ukraine now has a "very clear European perspective" but the road to EU membership will take time and require hard work, the president of the EU executive told the country's parliament on Friday.
EU leaders last week granted Ukraine candidate status to join the bloc, formally opening a process that is expected to take years before it becomes a member of the union that now comprises 27 countries.
In a speech by video-link to the Ukrainian assembly, Ursula von der Leyen underlined the progress made by the country in its path towards EU membership while it defends itself against Russia's Feb. 24 invasion.
"Ukraine now has a very clear European perspective. And Ukraine is a candidate country to join the European Union, something that seemed almost unimaginable just five months ago," she told lawmakers and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
"There is a long road ahead but Europe will be at your side every step of the way, for as long as it takes, from these dark days of war until the moment you cross the door that leads into our European Union," she said, noting that many crucial reforms were needed as soon as possible. "The next steps are within your reach. But they will require hard work," she added.
Zelenskiy said Ukraine must become an EU member state quickly.
"Our path to membership must not take decades," he said. "We must traverse this path as quickly as possible. This depends on us."
Ukrainian lawmakers clapped in unison as a huge EU flag was brought into the assembly hall by three servicemen from the National Guard dressed in ceremonial uniforms.
Von der Leyen listed among urgent measures Ukraine needed to take: the adoption of a media law, the implementation of new rules that reduce oligarchs' excessive clout and the appointment of top anti-corruption officials. Zelenskiy urged lawmakers to pass all those measures.
(Reporting by Charlotte van Campenhout, John Chalmers and Francesco Guarascio in Brussels and Max Hunder in Kyiv; Editing by Nick Macfie)