On Europe Day, the EU and Ukraine were together, but Kiev was absent.

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BRUSSELS: The European Union is marking its Europe Day, that celebration of “peace and unity,” together with Ukraine for the first time. The display of solidarity doesn’t mean the war-ravaged country is closer to becoming an EU member, though.

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, the head of the EU’s executive branch, made a special trip to Kyiv on Tuesday to deliver warm words about the the bloc and Ukraine’s common destiny to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

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Ukraine has been fighting for the ideals of Europe that we celebrate today to create lasting unity and peace,” von der Leyen said.

After more than a year of war with invading Russia, Ukraine sees joining the bloc as an essential element of a future in the Western world. But as the 27 current members commemorated their bond as one, it was clear how far off Ukraine’s membership remains.

Next month, it will be one year since the EU nations made Ukraine a candidate for membership. They have lavished the country with praise, boosted it with billions in aid and military support and adopted multiple rounds of sanctions.

Some European leaders often dress in the blue and yellow of Ukraine’s national flag and say “Slava Ukraini,” which means Glory to Ukraine, to end their speeches.

Yet, frustration on the Ukrainian side is evident. Weary and hoarse, dressed in army olive-drab, Zelenskyy visited the Netherlands last week with a heartfelt plea to speed up the country’s membership process.

Von der Leyen heard the same message Tuesday and acknowledged that it was “impressive to see that despite a full blown war, Ukraine is working hard, tirelessly and intensively” to meet the EU’s requirements.

Time, however, is an extremely flexible concept in the EU, and patience an essential one. The EU foresees the next assessment in October. “A lot of progress has been made, but work has to continue,” von der Leyen said.

That is hard for Zelenskyy, a leader who is counting in weeks and months when his nation might be on the road to victory — or ruin. The best advice, though, is for Ukraine to stay the painstakingly slow course that will likely take many years, if not over a decade.

A promise has been made, and in essence it is now in the hands of Ukraine. The EU cannot postpone things forever,” Ghent University Professor Hendrik Vos, an expert on EU decision-making, said.

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