The EU's executive branch also recommended candidate status for Moldova, joining Ukraine in a first step in the membership process. The commission will now put forward its approved opinions on granting membership for both countries to the EU's current member states.
Both countries have fulfilled many of the criteria for membership, including democratic institutions and their human rights record, the EU said. Georgia, which has also submitted a membership bid, was deemed not to be ready for candidate status but will be once a number of priorities are addressed.
Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, said the countries all shared a "strong and legitimate aspiration" of joining the EU, and approving the applications sent a clear signal of support.
"This is a historic day for the people of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. We are confirming that they belong, in due time, in the European Union," von der Leyen said.
A country must meet the EU's political and economic criteria, as well as show it can fulfill the obligations of membership to become part of the 27-state bloc.
Among the recommendations, the commission said Ukraine still must tighten selection procedures of its judicial appointments and bolster anti-money and anti-oligarch laws to align with the EU.
Despite the requirements, the commission said Ukraine's application on Feb. 28 — four days after Russia invaded its territory — demonstrated that Kyiv was "well advanced" for EU membership criteria.
The commission that the country showed the political and economic resilience required for EU member states, with institutions "guaranteeing democracy the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities."
It also praised Ukraine's gradual alignment with EU membership obligations and long-standing financial stability.
"On this basis, the commission recommends that Ukraine be given the perspective to become a member of the European Union," the executive body said.
Olivér Várhelyi, neighborhood and enlargement commissioner, said the body presented its opinions "in record time" and that each of the three countries should begin work imminently on the reforms outlined in the commission's recommendations.
"This is crucial in order for Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia to move ahead on their EU path," Várhelyi said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted in TASS, Russia's state-owned news agency, saying on Friday that Moscow would be eying Ukraine's membership bid intently.
"This would certainly require our close attention, because we all know how discussions on the defense aspects of the EU's security have intensified in Europe," said Peskov.
--Editing by Joe Millis.
For a reprint of this article, please contact email@example.com.