Efforts to integrate Ukraine with the EU hit a setback when Dutch voters rejected a treaty that would create closer economic, trade and political ties between the large eastern European country and the rest of Europe. But Ukrainian political leaders have insisted the country will stay on a European path one way or the other. 

President Petro Poroshenko vowed Ukraine would “continue our movement towards the EU”. And the mayor of Kiev, Vitali Klitschko, speaking to fDi in March before the Dutch vote, insisted that whatever the progress of integration efforts, Ukraine must continue on a path towards Europeanisation. “We can’t wait for Europe to come to us or for us to go to Europe. We have to build European standards of life in our city and our country, we have to be an open, democratic country,” he said. 

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Mr Klitschko cited Kiev's efforts to reduce corruption – which include working with software company SAP on smart city initiatives that would make city spending and budgets more transparent – as well as improvements to transport, schooling, parks and publics space as among the moves towards a better standard of living for the city's residents. “People feel these kinds of changes personally. They want improvements and as mayor I am responsible for delivering them,” he said. “We need to build an independent budget for our city, this would also help… Kiev is a sleeping elephant. We have to wake up this elephant.” 

Huge challenges remain at the local and national level and the country faces further political tension with Mr Poroshenko being among the world leaders named in the so-called Panama Papers for controversial offshore financial holdings. The Dutch vote adds yet one more complication to Ukraine's already complex geopolitical dynamic. 

After more than two decades of wrangling and a 2013 political crisis that toppled the government of then-president Viktor Yanukovych, who had refused to sign the treaty, the political provisions of the Ukraine-European Union Association Agreement were finally signed in 2014. 

All 28 EU member states have ratified the treaty, which was approved also by the Dutch parliament last year. The vote was triggered by an internet petition opposing the agreement and despite low turnout, more than 60% of those who did vote rejected the agreement. This places the Dutch government in a precarious position; the vote is not binding but it also now makes it difficult for the government to press ahead with support of the treaty.