Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy has addressed the US Congress via videolink, making an impassioned plea for help that summoned memories of the Pearl Harbor and 9/11 attacks.
Between coordinating his country’s defense against the Russian invasion, Zelenskiy has attended a number of such virtual meetings with leaders and governments across the western world. The Ukrainian president also recently gave similar addresses to the British and Canadian parliaments.
The speeches have been tailored to their audiences, with the address to the UK parliament invoking Winston Churchill whilst the speech delivered to Canadian lawmakers compared Ukrainian cities to places like Toronto and Ottawa. This latest address took a similar tack, with Zelenskiy using the two largest ever attacks on US soil to make his point this time.
“Remember Pearl Harbor, the terrible morning of December 7, 1941, when your sky was black from the planes attacking you,” said Zelenskiy in reference to the attack that saw the US enter World War II.
“Remember September 11, a terrible day in 2001 when evil tried to turn your cities, independent territories, into battlefields. When innocent people were attacked from the air. Our country is experiencing the same every day, right now, at this moment. Every night for three weeks now … Russia has turned the Ukrainian sky into a source of death for thousands of people.” he continued.
The actor and comedian turned wartime leader also played video footage of missile strikes on his country’s cities and the resulting carnage. Once again Zelenskiy repeated his plea for NATO to impose a no-fly zone over his country with a simple message at the end of the video reading “Close the sky over Ukraine”.
Western leaders have resisted the calls for a no-fly zone up until now, wary of being drawn into direct conflict with Russia. Mr. Zelenskiy has acknowledged that his request is unlikely to be granted, and has asked for air-defence systems and aircraft.
Poland recently agreed to supply Ukraine with MiG-29 fighter jets, but this move was also blocked by the Biden administration in Washington.
Addressing President Biden directly and speaking in English, President Zelenskiy said: “I wish you to be the leader of the world. Being the leader of the world means being the leader of peace.”
Zelenskiy ended his address with a somber reminder of the human cost of the invasion. “Now, I’m almost 45 years old,” he said. “Today my age stopped when the heart of more than 100 children stopped beating. I see no sense in life if it cannot stop the deaths.”
The speech was met by a standing ovation from all in attendance at its conclusion. Democratic senator Chris Murphy summed up the following mood, tweeting “There’s no member of Congress left that room without thinking what more the United States can do to stop this carnage. Just a gut wrenching speech. #SlavaUkraine”.