Ukraine lifts travel ban against HIV-positive visitors
AFP/AFP/File - Activist and HIV infected people holds candles as they rally in front of a Red Ribbon in the center of the Ukrainian capital of Kiev on November 29, 2012, to mark the upcoming World AIDS Day on December 1

Ukraine said on Wednesday it had removed its restriction on entry and foreign travel for HIV-positive people as part of growing efforts to improve relations with Europe after decades of Moscow rule.

The ex-Soviet state's Deputy Health Minister Igor Pereginets said the repeal of the 14-year ban was one of the conditions put forward by the European Union in the ongoing visa-free travel talks.

"This regulation was repealed (in June) for both Ukrainian citizens travelling abroad and for foreigners entering Ukraine," Pereginets told AFP.

Kiev hopes to strike an unrestricted travel agreement with Brussels next year and apply for EU membership by 2020.

Ukraine's human rights commissioner called the health ministry's decision "a significant step forward in our defence of human rights."

"Ukraine now joins some 140 progressive nations that also lifted such bans," commissioner Valeriya Lutkovska's office said in a statement posted on Facebook.

Ukraine, a nation of about 40 million people that has seen nearly 7,000 killed in a conflict that broke out 16 months ago, has one of Europe's highest HIV infection rates.

The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) estimates that Ukraine had 290,000 people living with the virus in 2014.

It reported a prevalence rate for adults aged 15 to 49 of 1.2 percent -- the same as Ethiopia's and higher than Democratic Republic of the Congo that year.

But UNAIDS also believes the infection rate has been slowing for most of the past decade thanks to state-sponsored awareness programmes.

The global agency has congratulated Ukraine "for being the first country in eastern Europe to reduce new HIV infections between 2001 and 2012."