EU leaders held a post mortem on Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich's last-minute U-turn, which dashed the bloc's ambition to draw a giant eastern neighbour into its orbit by offering a trade and aid pact to the former Soviet republic.
"Europe is open for Ukrainian people but not necessarily for this government. That's the message," said Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite.
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said that in the long run the EU offered Ukrainians the most reliable road to a "modern, open, independent" country.
"What we see in Kiev is a yearning for a better future," he said of protests demanding Mr Yanukovich's departure and a deal with the EU. "The thirst for freedom will not disappear."
Ukrainian officials and diplomats in Kiev said fierce Russian economic pressure and the unwillingness of the EU and the International Monetary Fund to offer more aid and be more flexible prompted Yanukovich to change his mind.
EU officials made the choice harder for Yanukovich by insisting he free his biggest political rival, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, to go abroad for medical care.