STORY: (Ukranian) "Ukraine is Europe."

"Ukraine is Europe" chanted these supporters of closer ties with the European Union in 2013.

Now, more than a decade later, the country will begin talks to join it.

Ukranian Serviceman Yehor Sobolev has backed the effort since those 2013 demonstrations.

"For me it is about fulfilling one's dreams. Sometimes it is very hard to fulfill your dreams. Sometimes it means riot police batons or the shots fired from Russian tanks, or hits by Russian missiles or UAVs. But we Ukrainians know how to fulfill our dreams."

Before joining the military in 2021, Sobolev was a lawmaker who worked on legislation that formed the foundation of Ukraine's anti-corruption infrastructure, central to securing financial aid and backing for Kyiv's integration with the EU.

Prior to that, he was a prominent figure in the Maidan revolution that toppled Ukraine's president in 2014, after the Russia-backed leader broke a promise to develop closer ties with the EU.

The launch of talks, though largely ceremonial, is an important step for a nation that has spilled blood and pushed through the reforms required in its pursuit of EU membership.

Ukraine filed its request to join the EU days after Russia's full-scale invasion in February 2022. It sees membership as validation of its fight to embrace European values.

Ukraine cleared initial hurdles to accession in December by showing progress in fighting corruption and rebuilding its judiciary, among other areas the EU considers fundamental.

But Sobolev believes it still has work to do.

"I think that from the point of view of courage, will and the ability to stand up for one's values, we are already inside the European Union and we can share this knowledge. From the point of view of our ability to manage our government, to choose honest officials, to create a judicial system - we are at the back of the room, and we still have a lot to learn."

The negotiations with the EU are expected to take years to conclude.