"Today marks a crucial step on your path towards the EU," European Council President Charles Michel said on Twitter after talks in Brussels. Leaders also agreed to approve Moldova's candidacy.
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky said he "sincerely commends" the European Council's decision, calling it "a unique and historical moment in EU/Ukraine relations."
The decision, made at an EU Council summit, comes a week after President of the European Commission Ursula von Der Leyen said it was the opinion of the bloc's executive body that Ukraine deserved candidate status because it "has clearly demonstrated the country's aspiration and the country's determination to live up to European values and standards."
However, it is still likely to be years before Ukraine is able to join the EU. The process is lengthy and requires agreement from the 27 member states at almost every stage. This means that there are multiple opportunities for member states to use their veto as a political bargaining chip.
Before Ukraine can start negotiations to join the bloc, it must first meet the Copenhagen criteria -- an opaque trio of requirements that focus on whether or not a country has a functioning free-market economy; whether its institutions are fit to uphold European values such as human rights and the EU's interpretation of the rule of law; and whether it has a functioning, inclusive democracy.