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European Parliament approves visa-free travel for Ukrainians

An EU bill allowing Ukrainians into the bloc for short stays without visas has been overwhelmingly backed by the European Parliament. Amid the conflict with Russia, the deal is a show of closer EU-Ukraine ties. The European Parliament on Thursday voted overwhelmingly in favor of enabling Ukrainians to travel to the EU without a visa. The proposed bill passed by a 521-75 margin - with 36 abstentions. Ukrainians who have biometric passports would be authorized to enter EU countries, except for the UK and Ireland, without a visa for 90 days in any 180-day period. Ukrainians will also be able to access non-EU countries Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland without a visa. Read: Ukraine slams Eurovision amid feud with Russia over entrant "Great day for the people of Europe and Ukraine," said Anna Maria Corazza Bildt, a Swedish member of the EU parliament. The legislation must still be formally approved by individual EU member states and should come into force in June. (Deutsche Welle)

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Baba Marta Day

Grandma March Day (or simply Baba Marta, Bulgarian: Баба Марта) is a holiday celebrated in Bulgaria, on the first of March. Martenitsas - usually in the form of a wrist band or small yarn dolls or tassels, created by combining red and white colored threads - are worn on that day and through March, until a stork or a blossoming tree is seen, symbolizing the coming of spring, warmer weather and well being. Once the stork or blooming tree appears, the Martenitsa is taken off and hung on a tree. It is common in the spring to see trees festooned in Martenitsas. Older Bulgarians call it Birch Month, because it is around this time when birch trees start growing leaves and giving sap. There's much folklore about Grandma March Day and the character of Baba Marta herself.[1] The greeting exchanged on this day is Chestita Baba Marta (Честита Баба Марта – Happy Baba Marta, often shortened to ЧБМ on greetings cards). There are various theories and suggestions (even several legends, involving real historical figures) about the symbolism of these two particular colors - red & white, from which Martenitsa are made. An obvious explanation and perhaps a common belief people share, is that "red" stands for "life/birth" and "white" denotes "anew/on clear grounds". Combined together, they mean "newborn", "rebirth", "a new beginning"; a celebration of Life and Survival. Another popular explanation is that white stands for wisdom and red for good health, which means that anyone giving you a Martenitsa is wishing you both throughout the new year. In March, these amulets, worn around one's wrists and on their attire, can be seen almost everywhere in Bulgaria and in the neighboring regions. Being a purely pagan ritual by origin, Baba Marta Day is one of the oldest, still existing traditions in Christian Europe. /from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia/

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EU states agree visa-free travel for Ukraine, but not yet

European Union states agreed on Thursday to waive visas for Ukrainians on short visits, but only after the bloc beefs up a mechanism to suspend visa-free agreements in an emergency. Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, has fostered closer ties with the EU since Moscow annexed its Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in 2014 and started backing rebels fighting Kiev's troops in the east of the country. Many difficulties to progress remain, not least Ukraine's sluggish fight against endemic corruption and the EU's caution on immigration after the arrival of about 1.3 million refugees and migrants in 2015, mainly from the Middle East and North Africa. But, a week before an EU-Ukraine summit on Nov. 24, EU states gave their conditional backing to allowing Ukrainians to travel visa-free to the bloc for short visits. Implementation, however, will take time as further negotiations are needed between the EU states, the European Parliament and the bloc's executive European Commission. The decision on Thursday also says visa liberalization for Ukraine should not take effect until after the bloc - wary of a repeat of last year's refugee influx - rolls out a beefed-up mechanism to lift any visa waivers in case of emergency. Talks on the so-called suspension mechanism have been making slow progress and diplomats say it could take weeks before it is in place.

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