KYIV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday that his war-torn country deserved to start talks "this year" on joining the European Union.
"I believe that Ukraine deserves to start negotiations on EU membership this year," Zelensky said Thursday after talks with EU chief Ursula von der Leyen.
He said further integration with the European bloc would inspire Ukrainians and give them "motivation" to fight against Russian troops.
On Friday, Kyiv hosts a high-profile EU-Ukraine summit.
In June last year, EU leaders granted candidate status to Ukraine, just months after Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops to the pro-Western country.
But the path to full membership remains long despite Kyiv's bullishness, and could take years.
French President Emmanuel Macron warned last May it could take "decades" before Ukraine meets the criteria and achieves full membership.
Zelensky said that Ukrainian and EU officials had a "mutual" understanding.
"Only together a strong Ukraine and a strong European Union can protect the life we value," Zelensky said.
"And that our further integration must give energy and motivation to our people to fight against any obstacles and threats."
The Ukrainian leader also said that global pressure on Russia must be increased.
"The enemy is at a specific stage when Russia's strategic defeat is already clear," he said. "But tactically, they still have the resources to attempt offensive actions."
On Twitter, von der Leyen said Ukraine was "taking notable steps forward to meet our recommendations, while at the same time fighting an invasion."
"We have never been closer," she said, noting that "We are also working on extending tariff-free access to our market."
The talks Thursday came a day after Ukraine expanded its anti-corruption efforts by raiding the residences of an oligarch and a former interior minister, a key issue for Kyiv to secure approval to join the EU.
Von der Leyen said at a press conference with Zelensky that she was "comforted" to see that the corruption crackdown was delivering "tangible results".