WVN – Ukraine’s state-owned passport website has crashed within hours of the European Parliament voting to grant its citizens visa-free travel into the EU.
At a plenary sitting of the European Parliament in Strasbourg MEPs gave give their final approval to a visa waiver for people from Russia-bordering sovereign state.
Passport holders from the country will now have up to three months visa-fee travel rights across European member states.
The legislation was approved by 521 votes to 75 with 36 abstentions
The measure is likely to come into effect in June, after it is formally adopted by the Council of Ministers.
The text was already informally agreed with the Council so no speeches were given.
The privileged travel arrangement will regulate short tourist and business visas, but will not grant Ukrainians additional access to jobs in the EU, which will still require works permits.
The deadline for fulfilling President Petro Poroshenko’s election promise had been pushed back a number of times, frustrating Ukrainian voters.
Mr Poroshenko’s approval rating only just stands in double digits, with the country’s economic struggles, rampant corruption and austerity measures adding pressure on his government.
The president was at a security forum in Kiev when he received news of the vote.
He said: “I congratulate everyone who contributed to it! And all Ukrainians,” as he shook hands with his former Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyk, and as well as his successor Vladimir Groysman.
Ukraine has a population of 45million people, and all those with a biometric passport, or new passport containing a digital chip, will be allowed visa-free travel.
Not all Ukrainians have biometric passports.
Ukrainian officials began accepting applications in 2015, receiving more than 65,000 in the first month.
This time the decision will not apply to the UK and Ireland.
There were fears allowing visa-free travel will lead to an influx of refugees following Russia’s invasion of southeastern Ukraine.
In 2016 Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło sad 1m migrants from the nation – but she was later accused of exaggeration.
The vote today follows the approval of new EU emergency powers to suspend visa-free travel rights last December, to avoid such a situation.
If there is a large increase in asylum requests, the new powers allow either the Commission or a majority of EU states to suspend a country’s visa exemptions.
The crisis in Ukraine began in November 2013 when pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych’s government abandoned a deal with the European Union in favour of stronger ties with Russia.
But pro-European protesters broke out and took to the streets, occupying Government buildings.
President Yanukovych was removed from power after 88 people were killed in two days in Kiev.
Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in March of 2014 causing deep anger among its people.
Fighting between Ukrainian government troops and Russia-backed separatists has killed more than 9,600 people in eastern Ukraine since it began in 2014.
Rapporteur for the proposal Mariya Gabriel said: “Ukraine has achieved all the benchmarks, so the visa requirement should be lifted.”
She also said the decision sends “another very strong message that Ukraine is a key partner for the European Union in the Eastern Partnership”.