WASHINGTON – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday sternly addressed a joint session of Congress, asking for additional military help.
Hours after the historic remarks, President Joe Biden announced a new $800 million military aid package that will supply the Ukrainian armed forces with hundreds of anti-aircraft systems, and thousands of anti-armor weapons, as well as small arms, ammunition, body armor and helmets. The package brings total U.S. aid to Ukraine since January to $2 billion.
Later in the day, Biden told reporters in unscripted comments that Russian leader Vladimir Putin “is a war criminal.”
In his formal remarks, Biden said “The world is united in our support for Ukraine and our determination to make (Russian President Vladimir) Putin pay a very heavy price.”
“We are going to continue to have (Ukraine’s) backs as they fight for their freedom, their democracy, their very survival,” the president said. “Together, with our allies and partners, we will keep up the pressure on Putin’s crumbling economy – isolating him on the global stage. That’s our goal.”
In a virtual 18-minute speech from the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, Zelenskyy appealed to the American memory of the Pearl Harbor and Sept. 11 attacks and expressed his gratitude for the United State’s support thus far.
“Today, the Ukrainian people are not only defending Ukraine,” Zelenskyy said. “We are fighting for the values of Europe and the world, sacrificing our lives in the name of the future.”
At the beginning and conclusion of the Ukrainian leader’s speech, he was greeted by bipartisan standing ovations and cheers from lawmakers.
While the additional aid will assist Ukraine in its fight, Biden has maintained that the implementation of a NATO no-fly zone – a concession Zelenskyy asked Congress for in his speech – is out of the question.
“Russia has turned the Ukrainian sky into a source of death for thousands of people,” Zelenskyy said. “Is this a lot to ask for to create a no-fly zone over Ukraine to save people?”
Zelenskyy challenged the members of Congress to take additional actions until Russian aggression ceases.
He proposed sanctions on all Russian politicians still in office and the closure of all American ports to Russian goods. He called on every American company to leave the Russian market, saying that it is “flooded with our blood.”
Without naming the organizations, Zelenskyy said the world institutions charged with preventing war do not work and have failed in their missions.
He proposed a new organization, called “U24,” with the goal of stopping all conflicts immediately and providing all the necessary assistance – including weapons and humanitarian aid – within 24 hours.
Halfway through the address, Zelenskyy played a video for Congress. The interlude depicted graphic images of air strikes and wounded Ukrainian civilivians, including an infant child. Accompanied by classical violin music, the video also showed a mass grave being filled with the corpses of civilians in body bags.
After the video, Zelenskyy addressed Congress in English. “I am almost 45-years-old,” he said. “Today, my age stopped when the hearts of more than 100 children stopped beating.”
Lawmakers were moved by the address and said they were determined to do all the United States could do.
“(Zelenskyy’s) message was clear, we need staying power to isolate Russia and Mr. Putin,” Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, said during an interview on MSNBC. “What we need to do is make sure that Ukraine has the equipment it needs in order to defend itself, particularly the skys.”
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, thanked Zelenskyy for his vision of security and peace.
Hoyer said in a statement that he looks forward to the day that the Ukrainian president may stand in the Capitol in person and “receive the gratitude of the American people for defending global democracy on its front lines in its hour of peril.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, called his speech “powerful and heart-wrenching” in a statement.
“It reinforced our sympathy, our outrage, and our resolve,” McConnell said.
But the GOP leader went on to criticize the Biden administration for what he said was a slow response to Russian escalation.
In his final sentences, Zelenskyy applauded Biden for his leadership, adding: “Being the leader of the world means to be the leader of peace.”