Ukrainians cheer on 1st day of visa-free EU travel as president proclams 'breakaway' from Russia

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (second from left) has declared a "breakaway" from Russia.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (second from left) has declared a "breakaway" from Russia.PHOTO: EPA

KIEV (AFP) - Ukrainians were on Sunday (June 11) celebrating the first day of visa-free access to the European Union, with hundreds crossing the border as President Petro Poroshenko proclaimed a dramatic "breakaway" from Moscow.

The move is symbolic for Kiev, where a pro-EU revolt in 2014 toppled the previous Russia-backed government and was followed by Moscow's annexation of the Crimea peninsula sparking a protracted ongoing conflict with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

"The visa-free regime for Ukraine has started! Glory to Europe! Glory to Ukraine!" Poroshenko tweeted early Sunday after hundreds of Ukrainians crossed the EU border.

Only those with biometric passports - containing a microchip with personal data, including fingerprints - can take advantage of the visa-free travel for the time being.

Late Saturday, Poroshenko addressed a crowd in Kiev's European Square saying the new travel regime "symbolises a final breakaway of our state from the Russian empire" and calling the future a "different historical era." Kiev is also seeking to boost European integration with cheaper rail links and more low-cost air connections with EU cities, he said.

Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin also cheered on Twitter after passengers on flights from Ukraine were able to enter Warsaw, Budapest, Frankfurt and other airports.

"#Bezviz (no visa) is just the beginning!" he wrote.