The executive arm of the European Union has recommended that Ukraine be granted candidate status to join the 27-nation bloc.

The promise of membership in a union created to safeguard peace on the continent holds deep symbolism for the nation at war, but it is only the first step in a process that could take decades.

The European Commission recommendation is the first step on the long road toward membership and comes a day after four European Union leaders vowed to back Kyiv's candidacy.

The recommendation will be discussed by leaders of the 27-nation bloc during a summit next week in Brussels.

Launching accession talks requires unanimous approval from all member countries.

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.