Zelensky's virtual world tour: History lessons and pleas for weapons

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While addressing the Australian Parliament on Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky highlighted the 2014 downing of a passenger jet by Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine, an attack that killed 298 people ​​— including 38 Australians.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in a T-shirt and fleece top, speaks with the Ukrainian flag behind him.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks from Kyiv on Monday night. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

That same day, Zelensky also virtually addressed the Tweede Kamer, or the lower house of the Dutch Parliament, where he highlighted the same aircraft downing, which killed almost 200 citizens of the Netherlands. He also invoked the Nazi leveling of Rotterdam.

The Dutch city of Rotterdam is seen devastated after a German air raid in 1940.
The Dutch city of Rotterdam was devastated after a German air raid during the invasion of Holland in 1940. (Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

In speech after speech to world leaders, lawmakers and officials from Kyiv, Zelensky does not employ cookie-cutter remarks about his ongoing defense of Ukraine amid Russia’s brutal invasion, which has now entered its sixth week. Rather, he uses intensely personal language meant to connect Ukraine's plight to the countries' respective histories.

United Kingdom

Members of British Parliament give a standing ovation as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is seen on a monitor.
Members of the British Parliament give a standing ovation after Zelensky addressed the House of Commons via videolink on March 8, 2022. (House of Commons/PA Images via Getty Images)

In his address to the U.K. Parliament on March 8, Zelensky invoked wartime British Prime Minister Winston Churchill as he appealed to lawmakers to do more to help Ukraine in its fight against Russia.

“We will not give up, and we will not lose,” he said. “We will fight to the end in the sea, in the air. We will fight for our land, whatever the costs. We will fight in the forests, in the fields, on the shores, in the streets.”

The address drew on one of Churchill’s great speeches from World War II, in which he told Parliament in 1940: “We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans.”

The evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk beach in May 1940.
The evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk beach in May 1940. (Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)


Addressing Polish leaders on March 11, Zelensky referred to a 2010 plane crash near an airfield in western Russia that killed the Polish president and a number of other top officials.

“We remember the terrible tragedy of 2010 near Smolensk,” Zelensky said. “We remember all the facts of the investigation into the circumstances of this catastrophe. We feel what this means for you. And what does the silence of those who also know all this mean to you."

A Russian soldier stands guard near the wreckage of a Polish government aircraft that crashed the previous day.
The wreckage of a Polish government aircraft in April 2010. The crash killed Poland's president and other officials. (Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP via Getty Images)

In the aftermath, Russia's handling of the wreckage and the victims' remains deepened the divide between the two nations, with many suggesting Russia was directly responsible for the crash despite official reports from both nations blaming pilot error. About 2 million Ukrainian refugees have crossed the border into Poland since the Russian invasion a month ago — a huge transfer of population in such a short period of time.


In a March 15 address to Canada, Zelensky repeatedly referred to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau by his first name and attempted to paint a visual of a Russian attack occurring there.

“Justin, imagine that you hear it,” Zelensky said. “And your children hear it. Hear missile strikes at Ottawa airport. At dozens of other places throughout your beautiful country, Canada. Cruise missiles. Even before dawn. And your children hug you and ask, ‘What happened, Dad?’”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau applauds with members of Parliament following Zelensky's virtual address.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, center, applauds with members of Parliament following Zelensky's virtual address on March 15. (Adrian Wyld/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Zelensky asked the leaders to imagine Russian artillery firing on Edmonton, blockading Vancouver and firing on a power station in Ontario.

“The famous CN Tower in Toronto: How many Russian missiles will be enough to destroy it?” Zelensky asked, referring to one of Canada’s most prominent landmarks. "Believe me, I do not wish this to all of you, but we predict every day how many more missiles can hit our TV towers.”

United States

Congress members watch Volodymyr Zelensky on a large video screen flanked by American flags.
Zelensky speaks to the U.S. Congress by video to plead for support. on March 16, 2022. (J. Scott Applewhite, pool/AP)

In his address to a joint session of Congress on March 16, Zelensky referenced Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech while calling for the U.S. military to enforce a no-fly zone over his country.

“I have a dream. These words are known to each of you today. I can say I have a need. I need to protect our sky. I need your decision, your help, which means exactly the same, the same you feel when you hear the words ‘I have a dream,’” he said.

Martin Luther King Jr. addresses a huge crowd at the March on Washington in 1963.
Martin Luther King Jr. addresses a crowd at the March on Washington, Aug. 28, 1963. (CNP/Getty Images)

The Ukrainian leader also cited two of the worst attacks on U.S. soil: Pearl Harbor and 9/11.

“Remember Pearl Harbor, the terrible morning, Dec. 7, 1941, when your sky was black from the planes attacking you. Just remember, remember September the 11th, a terrible day in 2001, when evil tried to turn your cities, independent territories, into battlefields, when innocent people were attacked,” Zelensky said. “Just like no one else expected it, you could not stop it. Our country experiences the same every day right now.”


In his address to Germany’s Parliament on March 17, Zelensky invoked President Ronald Reagan's 1987 appeal to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate to "tear down this wall."

Ronald Reagan makes his challenge to Mikhail Gorbachev on June 12, 1987, to tear down the Berlin Wall.
Ronald Reagan, making his challenge to Mikhail Gorbachev on June 12, 1987, to tear down the Berlin Wall. (Bettmann Archive via Getty Images)

The Ukrainian president called on Germany not to let a new wall divide Europe.

“It’s not a Berlin wall,” Zelensky said. “It is a wall in Central Europe between freedom and bondage, and this wall is growing bigger with every bomb [dropped on Ukraine].”

He then echoed Reagan in an appeal to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

“Chancellor Scholz, tear down this wall,” Zelensky said.


Speaking to the Israeli Knesset, or Parliament, on March 20, Zelensky pleaded with the legislators for more assistance, linking the war in Ukraine to World War II and the Holocaust. Unlike most of the countries he has spoken to, Israel has tried to remain a neutral party in the Ukraine war.

Demonstrators carrying Israeli and Ukrainian flags gather beneath a video screen on which Volodymyr Zelensky appears.
Demonstrators gather in Tel Aviv to view Zelensky's televised video address to the Israeli Knesset on March 20. 2022. (Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images)

“I want you to feel it all,” said Zelensky, who is one of the few Jewish leaders on the world stage. “I want you to think about this date. About Feb. 24. About the beginning of this invasion. Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Feb. 24 — this day has twice gone down in history. And both times as a tragedy. A tragedy for Ukrainians, for Jews, for Europe, for the world.”

“On Feb. 24, 1920, the National Socialist Workers' Party of Germany was founded,” he continued. “A party that took millions of lives. Destroyed entire countries. Tried to kill nations. 102 years later, on Feb. 24, a criminal order was issued to launch a full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine.”

Black smoke rises from a military airport near Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Feb. 24.
Black smoke rises from a military airport near Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Feb. 24. (Aris Messinas/AFP via Getty Images)

“Ukrainians have made their choice,” Zelensky concluded, asking why his nation had not received more weapons from Israel and why stronger sanctions had not been put on Russia. “Eighty years ago, they rescued Jews. That is why the righteous among the nations are among us. People of Israel, now you have such a choice.”


On March 22, Zelensky spoke to legislators in Italy, where he likened the Russian advances to those of the Nazis, saying, “The last one who did something like this in Europe were the Nazis when they invaded other countries. Russian troops have even mined the sea near our ports. And now it threatens neighboring shores and neighboring countries, because mines can drift by sea to them.”

Rudolf Hess, a member of Hitler's Nazi Cabinet, inspects the Guard of Honor in Rome in 1939.
Rudolf Hess, a member of Hitler's Nazi Cabinet, inspects the Guard of Honor in Rome on Oct. 29, 1939. (Keystone/Getty Images)

He also called on the Italians to target the assets of Russian oligarchs, who frequently vacation in the Mediterranean nation. The Scheherazade, a superyacht under scrutiny in Tuscany, has been linked to Putin himself. Zelensky urged Italy not to become a “resort for murderers.”

“You know those who brought war to Ukraine,” he said. “You know for sure. Those who order to fight. And those who promote it. Almost all of them use Italy as a place for vacation. So don't be a resort for murderers. Block all their real estate, accounts and yachts — from Scheherazade to the smallest ones. Block the assets of all those who have influence in Russia. Let them apply their influence for peace, to be able to come back to you someday.”


Japanese lawmakers applaud as Volodymyr Zelensky appears on a screen.
Members of Japan's lower house of Parliament applaud as Zelensky delivers a virtual address on March 23, 2022. (Behrouz Mehri, pool/AP)

In his address to Japan’s Parliament on March 23, Zelensky invoked the 2011 Fukushima disaster and the 1995 chemical attack in the country's subways.

“Imagine a nuclear power plant where a disaster happened,” he said, referring to the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. He warned that Russia’s invasion could set off a similar nuclear catastrophe in Chernobyl — not unlike the one that occurred at the same facility in 1986. (Ukrainian officials said Thursday that most Russian forces have left Chernobyl.)

A TV in a railway station in Seoul shows the meltdown of Japan's Fukushima No. 1 atomic plant in 2011.
A TV in a railway station in Seoul shows the meltdown of Japan's Fukushima No. 1 atomic plant after a massive quake on March 12, 2011. (Park Ji-Hwan/AFP via Getty Images)

The Ukrainian leader also alluded to Russia's possible use of the nerve gas sarin in Ukraine. In 1995, members of a Japanese cult used the chemical in an attack on Tokyo’s subway system, killing 14 people and injuring nearly 6,000 others.


Also on March 23, Zelensky addressed the leaders of France, calling on the nation to cut its ties with Russian businesses and referencing the longest battle of World War I, which took place on French soil.

“After weeks of Russian invasion, Mariupol and other Ukrainian cities hit by the occupiers resemble the ruins of Verdun,” he said. “As in the photos of the First World War, which, I'm sure, each and every one of you saw. The Russian militaries do not care which targets to hit. They destroy everything: residential neighborhoods, hospitals, schools, universities. Warehouses with food and medicine are being burned. They burn everything.”

The Battle of Verdun lasted for nearly the entirety of 1916 and resulted in hundreds of thousands of casualties.

World War I casualties in Meuse, France, in 1916.
World War I, battle of Verdun casualties in Meuse, France, in 1916. (Roger Viollet via Getty Images)


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