Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy received a standing ovation and more than a few tears as he delivered an impassioned and emotional speech to the halls of Congress via video link on Wednesday. Mar. 16.
Zelenskyy urged President Biden to be a “leader of peace,” begging the US for more help in fending off the brutal Russian invasion of his nation that nears the three-week mark and telling members at one point, “I call on you to do more.”
In his moving appeal, the beleaguered but defiant Zelenskyy also referenced the attack on Pearl Harbor and 9/11 while telling members of Congress that Ukrainians are experiencing “the same every day right now.”
“You are the leader of the nation – your great nation – I wish you to be the leader of the world,” Zelenskyy said in a direct message to Biden near the end of his 18-minute remarks to lawmakers. “Being the leader of the world means to be the leader of peace.”
Members who gathered in the 450-seat auditorium of the US Capitol’s visitor center greeted Zelenskyy with a standing ovation before his speech, in which he reiterated his call for the US and NATO to enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine — a step the West has declined to take out of fear that it would escalate the conflict with Moscow.
“Russian troops have already fired nearly 1,000 missiles at Ukraine, countless bombs,” Zelenskyy said. “They use drones to kill us with precision. This is a terror that Europe has not seen for 80 years … to create a no-fly zone over Ukraine to save people, is this too much to ask?”
Zelensky recalled both the Japanese attack that forced the US into World War II and the atrocities at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, telling his American audience that those tragedies should “allow you to understand Ukraine and understand us now.”
“When evil tried to turn your independent territories into battlefields when innocent people were attacked from air … [and] you could not stop it. Our country experiences the same every day right now,” he said.
Zelenskyy also referenced another symbol of America, Mount Rushmore – the massive South Dakota sculpture featuring the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt.
“I remember your national memorial … the faces of your prominent presidents who laid the foundation of the United States of America as it is today,” he said. “Democracy, independence, freedom, and care for everyone. We, in Ukraine, want the same for our people.”
Later in his remarks, Zelenskyy played a video contrasting what Ukraine looked like before the invasion in happier times with graphic footage of Russian airstrikes and harrowing evacuations. The video concluded with the message, “Close the sky over Ukraine.”
The Ukrainian president added that if a no-fly zone was not possible, the US must send S-300 missile systems and other weapons to aid Kyiv’s air defense forces. At one point, Zelenskyy even invoked Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech.
“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,” he said.
There have been unconfirmed reports the S-300 missile defense system is on its way or has already been deployed to defend the skies over Ukraine.
Zelenskyy also called for additional sanctions against Moscow, saying they are “needed constantly every week until the Russian military machine stops.”
“We propose that the United States sanction all politicians in the Russian Federation, who remain in their offices and do not cut ties with those who are responsible for the aggression against Ukraine,” he said, also calling for sanctions against all members of the Russian Duma.
Additionally, he asked the US to ensure that “Russians do not receive a single penny that [was] used to destroy people in Ukraine.
Zelenskyy, who has been praised around the world as a strong and brave leader amid the relentless Russian attack, described “strong” leadership as being “ready to fight for the life of his citizens, and the citizens of the world, for human rights, for freedom, for the right to live peaceably and to die when your time comes.”
At the end of his remarks, Zelenskyy spotlighted the thousands of civilian deaths in the conflict, making special note of the killing of dozens of children.
“Now I’m almost 45 years old. Today my age stopped when the hearts of more than 100 children stopped beating. I see no sense in life if it cannot stop the deaths,” he said.
After giving Zelenskyy a second standing ovation at the close of his remarks, multiple members of Congress appeared ready to answer his call to action, with Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) telling NBC News that they are in favor of delivering the S-300 missile systems and exploring additional sanctions.
In a brief statement to reporters, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) called Zelenskyy’s address “very powerful” and urged the White House to revisit Poland’s proposal to transfer approximately two dozen MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine via the US — an idea Biden personally nixed last week.