Speaking at a special ceremony at the Ukrainian-Slovak border Sunday, President Poroshenko said that the introduction of a visa-free regime with the EU was the final lifting of a "paper curtain" separating Ukraine from Europe. It was symbolic, he said, that the visa-free regime was being enacted on the eve of June 12, a holiday commemorating Russia's independence and sovereignty.
"We [Ukraine and Russia] finally became independent from each other, including politically, economically, energetically and mentally," Poroshenko said. To drive the point home, the president made the odd, perhaps deliberately provocative choice of quoting Russian poets Mikhail Lermontov and Alexander Pushkin, including a quote from the former's poem "Farewell, Unwashed Russia," and the latter's "To Chaadayev."
As for the visa-free regime itself, Bezpalko emphasized that it was much too early for Ukraine to celebrate.
The analyst recalled that tiny Moldova, Ukraine's southwestern neighbor, has enjoyed a visa-free travel regime with EU countries since 2014, but this has not improved the political or socio-economic situation in the country in any visible way.
"Moldova has had this kind of visa-free regime for a long time, but it never did become a driver for the Moldovan economy. Moldova is more dependent on remittances from citizens working abroad than Tajikistan," Bezpalko said. Remittances, predominantly from workers in Russia, are presently estimated to account for nearly 20% of Moldova's GDP.
Furthermore, with 80% of Ukrainians earning less than $5 a day, and about 1.9 million (or 9.5% of the working population) suffering unemployment, it seems doubtful that many Ukrainian nationals will be able to actually take advantage of their new-found freedom of travel to Europe.
Since June 11, Ukrainian citizens with biometric passports have been able to enter Schengen Area countries (including most of continental Europe but excluding the UK and Ireland) for a period up to 90 days during any 180-day period.
In recent weeks, some EU members have grown jittery about the prospects of a flood of Ukrainian illegal migrant workers finding ways to abuse the visa-free arrangements to come and work in their countries.