The European Union's executive arm recommended putting Ukraine on a path to membership Friday, a symbolic boost for the embattled country but one that did not slow a Russian onslaught in the east that is taking civilian lives and flattening cities.
The possibility of membership in a union created to safeguard peace on the continent and that stands as a model for the rule of law and prosperity fulfills a wish of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the many Western-looking citizens resisting Russia's invasion.
The latest embrace of Ukraine by its European allies also marks another setback for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who launched his war nearly four months ago, hoping to pull his ex-Soviet neighbor back into Russia's sphere of influence. Putin was scheduled to address Russia's showpiece economic forum in St. Petersburg on Friday, but his speech had to be delayed because the forum's website was hit with a cyberattack.
The European Commission's recommendation that Ukraine become a candidate for membership will be discussed by leaders of the 27-nation bloc during a summit next week in Brussels. The war has increased pressure on EU governments to fast-track Ukraine's candidate status. But the process is expected to take years, and EU members remain divided over how quickly and fully to open their arms to new members.
Support for Ukraine from Western countries — both political and military — has been key to its surprising success in the face of larger and better-equipped Russian forces. Zelenskyy has also clamored for more immediate support in the form of more and better weapons to turn the tide in the country's eastern Donbas region.
Russia pressed its offensive there Friday, leaving desperate residents struggling to make sense of what the future holds for them.
"We are old people, we do not have a place to go. Where will I go?" asked Vira Miedientseva, one of the elderly residents grappling with the aftermath of an attack Thursday in Lysychansk, which lies just across the river from Sievierodonetsk, a key focus of battles in recent weeks that Russians have nearly captured.
Additional reporting by The Associated Press.