Addressing Congress from the warfront on Wednesday, Ukraine’s President unleashed an eloquent call for aid. Will it work?
“Glory to heroes,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky began his speech to Congress on Wednesday. “Thank you very much Madam Speaker, members of the Congress, ladies and gentlemen, Americans, friends.”
“I am proud to greet you from Ukraine, from our capital city of Kyiv, a city that is under missile and airstrikes from Russian troops every day,” Zelensky told U.S. lawmakers. “But it doesn’t give up, and we have not even thought about it for a second, just like many other cities and communities in our beautiful country, which found themselves in the worst war since World War II.”
“I have the honor to greet you on behalf of the Ukrainian people, a brave and freedom-loving people who, for eight years, have been resisting Russian aggression, those who give their best sons and daughters to stop this full-scale invasion,” Zelensky said. “Right now, the destiny of our country is being decided, the destiny of our people; whether Ukrainians will be free, whether they will be able to preserve their democracy.”
“Russia has attacked not just us, not just our land, not just our cities,” Zelensky continued. “It went on a brutal offensive against our values, against our right to live freely in our own country, choosing our own future, against our desire for happiness, against our national dreams.
“Just like the same dreams you have, you Americans,” Zelensky gently reminded his audience of distinguished guests.
“Just like anyone else in the United States, I remember your national memorial in Rushmore, the faces of your prominent presidents, those who laid the foundation of the United States of America as is it today: Democracy, independence, freedom, and care for everyone, for every person, for everyone who works diligently, who lives honestly, who respects the law,” he said. “We in Ukraine want the same for our people, all that is a normal part of your own life.”
“Remember Pearl Harbor.”
In what the New York Times dismissed thusly as, “Zelensky invoked American traumas to bolster his case,” the Ukrainian president-turned-freedom-fighter had this to say about America’s past.
“Americans, in your great history, you have pages what would allow you to understand Ukrainians, understand us now when we need you, right now,” Mr. Zelensky began.
“Remember Pearl Harbor, terrible morning of December 7, 1941, when your sky was black from the planes attacking you. Just remember it. Remember September 11, a terrible day in 2001 when evil tried to turn your cities, independent territories, into battlefields, when innocent people were attacked, attacked from the air.”
“A humanitarian no-fly zone.”
“Our country experiences the same every day. Right now at this moment, every night for three weeks now, various Ukrainian cities, Odessa and Kharkiv, Chernihiv and Sumy, Zhytomyr and Lviv, Mariupol and Dnipro, Russia has turned the Ukrainian sky into a source of death for thousands of people,” Zelensky told his audience. “Russian troops have already fired nearly 1,000 missiles at Ukraine, countless bombs. They use drones to kill us with precision.”
“This is a terror that Europe has not seen for 80 years and we are asking for a reply, for an answer to this terror from the whole world,” he lamented. “Is this a lot to ask for, to create a no-fly zone over Ukraine to save people? Is this too much to ask- a humanitarian no-fly zone, something that Russia would not be able to terrorize our free cities?”
“I have a dream.”
“If this is too much to ask, we offer an alternative,” Zelensky said of his request for a no-fly zone. “You know what kind of missile defense systems we need, S-300 and other similar systems. You know how much depends on the battlefield, on the ability to use aircraft, powerful, strong aviation to protect our people, our freedom, our land, aircraft that can help Ukraine, help Europe.”
“And you know they exist and you have them, but they are on earth, not in the Ukrainian sky,” he said. “They do not defend our people. 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’.”
Ukrainian officials have requested other American-made military equipment as well; lethal drones, communication systems.
President Biden has yet to address Zelensky’s latest plea for help directly, but the Biden Administration has thus far provided antiaircraft missiles, antitank missiles and other material support to the tune of $350 million in early March and another $800 million pledged on Wednesday.
Of course it is quite possible, even likely, that if this conflict continues much longer, Putin may tighten his restrictions on helping Ukraine in this way. As of now, he is insisting a no-fly zone will escalate the conflict, and has hinted about using nuclear weapons if necessary.
“I call on you to do more.”
“Ukraine is grateful to the United States for its overwhelming support, for everything that your government and your people have done for us, for weapons and ammunition, for training, for finances, for leadership in the free world, which helps us to pressure the aggressor economically,” Zelensky went on.
“I am grateful to President Biden, for his personal involvement, for his sincere commitment to the defense of Ukraine and democracy all over the world,” he said. “I am grateful to you for the resolution which recognizes all those who commit crimes against Ukraine, against the Ukrainian people, as war criminals.”
“However, now it is true in the darkest time in our country, for the whole of Europe, I call on you to do more. New packages of sanctions are needed constantly, every week, until the Russian military machine stops. Restrictions are needed for everyone on whom this unjust regime is based.”
“Not a single penny.”
“We propose 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, from State Duma’s members to the last official who has lack of morale to break this state terror,” Zelensky implored. “All American companies must leave Russia, leave their market immediately because it is flooded with our blood.”
“Leaders of peace.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, members of Congress, please take the lead,” he asked. “If you have companies in your districts who finance the Russian military machine in Russia, you should put pressure. I’m asking to make sure that the Russians do not receive a single penny that they use to destroy people in Ukraine.”
Zelensky went on to describe his vision for a post-war Ukraine, and for the world. It is understandable that the Ukrainian President would be advocating for new international associations and collectives dedicated to preserving peace.
“And in the end, to sum it up, today it’s not enough to be the leader of the nation,” he reminded U.S. leaders. “Today it takes to be the leader of the world, being the leader of the world means to be the leader of peace.”
“Peace in your country doesn’t depend anymore only on you and your people,” President Zelensky said. “It depends on those next to you and those who are strong. Strong doesn’t mean big. Strong is brave and 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 decently, and to die when your time comes, and not when it’s wanted by someone else, by your neighbor.”
While Zelensky’s speech got plenty of rave reviews, and sent more than a few U.S. lawmakers off in a frenzy to help the Ukraine, it remains to be seen if the Ukrainian President’s pleas to Congress, the British House of Commons, and elsewhere will be heeded.
What was clear from his speech, reading between every line, is the fact that Mr. Zelensky and the Ukrainian people are far from giving up their righteous fight.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)