The European Union on Friday completed the process of signing an association agreement with Ukraine and inked similar deals with Moldova and Georgia, sealing closer ties with those Eastern European countries despite strong objections from Russia.
The accords were signed at a ceremony during an EU summit in Brussels.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the deals with those three nations are "a recognition of the significant progress made over recent years and of their strong political determination to come closer to the European Union."
They also show "their shared outlook on a prosperous economic model and their desire to live by the European spirit and with European values."
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said the signing of the association accord marks an "historic day, perhaps the most important for my country after the declaration of independence."
He also paid tribute to Ukrainian protesters who died in violent protests that erupted after former President Viktor Yanukovych backed away from plans to ink the pact.
Yanukovych shunned the deal last November due to pressure from Russia and instead signed a $15 billion financial-aid package with the Kremlin.
Moscow opposed the deal because Brussels' offer of closer ties with the EU was conditioned on a pledge by Ukraine not to enter into any additional economic accords with Russia, Kiev's and the EU's leading energy supplier.
Yanukovych's decision touched off massive pro-Europe protests that led to his ouster, which Russia terms a coup, in February.
That development then spurred a secessionist movement in eastern Ukraine and Russia's annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in March after the inhabitants of that region - alarmed when a government including far-right Ukrainian nationalists took power in Kiev - voted to secede from Ukraine.
In a gesture of support for Ukraine's interim government, the EU signed the political clauses of the agreement in March 21, leaving only the signing of a section referring to the establishment of a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area between the 28-member bloc and Ukraine.
The European Commission says the implementation of the accord will boost Ukraine's national income by 1.2 billion euros ($1.6 billion) annually and especially benefit the apparel and textiles, food products, vegetable oil and non-ferrous metals sectors. EFE