Zelensky to Washington: Help

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WASHINGTON — Dressed in an olive green military T-shirt, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivered remarks to members of the U.S. Congress in an extraordinary address on Wednesday morning that had echoes of Winston Churchill’s rousing speech at the U.S. Capitol in 1941, at the very height of World War II.

“We need you right now right now,” Zelensky told American lawmakers through a translator. At one point in his address, Zelensky — a former actor and producer — played an expertly produced video, scored to plaintive string music, that showed how within a matter of weeks, Russia had turned Ukraine into a ruined landscape of death and destruction.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses Congress from Kyiv on Wednesday. (House Television via AP)

With fears mounting that Europe is on the cusp of a third world war, Zelensky portrayed the invasion of Ukraine that Russia launched last month as “a brutal offensive against our values — basic human values.”

Members of Congress listened to Zelensky in an auditorium in the Capitol’s visitor center, not in one of the two chambers where legislators meet. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi introduced him with a call of “Glory to Ukraine.”

Surrender was not an option, Zelensky said: “We have not even thought about it for a second.” But he added that resisting the much larger Russian military would require more help from the United States and other Western nations.

President Biden is expected to announce $800 million in new military funding to bolster Ukraine’s effort to repel the Russian invasion, but some members of Congress have called for the United States to become more actively involved. Biden will also travel to Brussels next week to meet with European leaders in hopes of finding a resolution to the conflict, which has caused a humanitarian crisis and shaken the world economy.

The assault on Ukraine is now in its third week, though, as Zelensky noted, Russia first invaded Ukraine in 2014, meaning that in reality the conflict is in its eighth year. Although Russia had occupied two eastern territories as well as the Crimean Peninsula since that time, Russian President Vladimir Putin decided in February to launch a full-scale invasion.

Peace talks have been fruitless thus far, and thousands of both Russian soldiers and Ukrainian citizens are believed to have been killed.

“Right now, the destiny of our country is being decided,” Zelensky said, asking Americans to remember Pearl Harbor and the Sept. 11 attacks. “Our country experiences the same every day. Right now. At this moment. Every night. For three weeks now.”

Cities like Mariupol, a port on the Sea of Azov, and Kharkiv, close to the Russian border, have faced a relentless Russian air assault. Zelensky himself has refused to leave Kyiv, and his video dispatches from the besieged city have become a worldwide sensation.

“Russia has turned the Ukrainian sky into a source of death for thousands of people,” Zelensky said. He pleaded for a no-fly zone, arguing that “Russia would not be able to terrorize our free cities” if Western forces policed the skies over his country. Yet the young but deft Ukrainian president conceded in the next moment that a no-fly zone was an unlikely outcome, since it could draw the United States and Western European nations into a direct conflict with Russia, which is a nuclear power.

Ukrainian emergency employees and volunteers carry an injured pregnant woman on a stretcher.
Ukrainian emergency employees and volunteers carry an injured pregnant woman following Russian shelling targeting a maternity hospital in Mariupol on March 9. (Evgeniy Maloletka/AP)

“If this is too much to ask, you know what type of defense systems we need,” Zelensky said.

In seeming anticipation of that request, CNN reported that the United States and European nations would provide Ukraine with surface-to-air missile systems that could prove effective in targeting Russian aircraft.

Zelensky added on Wednesday that he was “grateful” for the aid Ukraine has already received, as well as for sanctions against Russia. “However, now, it is true, in the darkest time for our country, for the whole of Europe, I call on you to do more.” He asked for sanctions against both businesses and individuals to be expanded, including against all Russian lawmakers. Those sanctions should keep expanding, Zelensky said, until what he called “the Russian military machine” leaves Ukraine. “Peace is more important than income,” he said.

After the conclusion of the video of the destruction that has been inflicted on his country — with a message to “close the sky over Ukraine” with a no-fly zone — Zelensky appeared again onscreen, concluding his address to Congress in English, invoking the status of the United States as a superpower. “Being the leader of the world,” he said, “means to be the leader of peace.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky receives a standing ovation.
Zelensky recieves a standing ovation before he addresses Congress on Wednesday. (Drew Angerer/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)


What happened this week in Ukraine? Check out this explainer from Yahoo Immersive to find out.