Zelenskyy asks the US for a no-fly zone in an emotional address to Congress, saying Russia has 'turned the Ukrainian sky into a source of death'
- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed Congress on Wednesday.
- The Ukrainian leader asked the US to support a no-fly zone. Biden has so far ruled this out.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivered a virtual address to Congress from Kyiv on Wednesday, imploring the US to support a no-fly zone over Ukraine. Zelenskyy said if this was "too much to ask for," then Kyiv needs more advanced anti-aircraft systems, like the S-300 surface-to-air missile systems, as well as aircraft and other weapons.
"Russia has turned the Ukrainian sky into a source of death for thousands of people," Zelenskyy said. "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."
Invoking Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s iconic "I Have a Dream" speech, Zelenskyy said, "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."
The Ukrainian president said the Russian assault on his country represents a "terror that Europe has not seen for 80 years."
"We are asking for a reply, for an an answer to this terror from the whole world," Zelenskyy said. "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?"
—The Recount (@therecount) March 16, 2022
The destiny of Ukraine and whether it will be free and able to preserve its democracy is being decided in this war, he added.
Zelenskyy also called on the US to remember the 9/11 terror attacks and Pearl Harbor, the 1941 attack by Japan that launched the US into WWII. "Our country experienced the same every day right now at this moment, every night for three weeks now," he said.
As Russia pummels Ukraine with airstrikes and artillery, Zelenskyy has repeatedly called on NATO to institute a no-fly zone. NATO and the US have rebuffed this request, however, because it would require the alliance to shoot down Russian warplanes. This would effectively amount to a declaration of war by NATO, a 30-member alliance that includes nuclear powers like the US, against Russia — a country that possesses one of the world's largest nuclear arsenals.
The US has provided Ukraine with billions in security assistance since Russia invaded and annexed Crimea in 2014. The Kremlin also began supporting pro-Russian rebels in a war in eastern Ukraine that year. The aid provided to Ukraine by the US includes Javelin anti-tank missiles and Stinger missiles, but Kyiv has repeatedly asked for more advanced defense systems to help it defend against Russian airstrikes.
President Joe Biden on Tuesday also signed a $1.5 trillion government funding bill that included $13.6 billion in military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine.
In addition to more weapons, Zelenskyy asked the US to slap additional sanctions on Russia. "I am grateful to President Biden for his sincere commitment to the defense of Ukraine and democracy all over the world ... In the darkest times for our country, I call on you to do more," he said.
The US has imposed crippling economic sanctions, including personal sanctions on Putin, since Russia began the military assault.
Zelenskyy has refused to leave Ukraine despite grave concerns for his safety. He has been praised across the world for his handling of Russia's unprovoked invasion.
The Ukrainian president has consistently expressed gratitude for the support his country has received from the West both before and during the war. But he's also cooled on Ukraine's NATO ambitions since Russia launched the military assault in late February.
Russia has demanded that Ukraine be permanently barred from NATO. Though the alliance has not taken steps to place Ukraine on the formal path to join NATO, it's firmly rejected this demand from Russia — underscoring that NATO's open-door policy is non-negotiable. Despite not being a member, Ukraine still maintains a robust partnership with NATO.
Zelenskyy, a former comedian and TV star, has only been in office for a few years. But in many ways, he's already upstaged Russian President Vladimir Putin — a former KGB operative who has ruled over Russia for roughly 20 years. Ukraine has put up a stiffer resistance against the Russian advance than expected. But the war has still caused immense suffering in Ukraine, and forced more than three million Ukrainians to flee the country in less than a month.
The war has led to roughly 1,900 civilian casualties in Ukraine thus far, per the UN's latest numbers, including 726 civilian deaths. Children were among those killed.
"I'm nearly 45. But today my age stopped when the hearts of 100 children stopped. I see no sense in life if it cannot stop death," Zelenskyy said toward the end of his speech to Congress.
He also addressed Biden directly, adding: "I wish you to be the leader of the world. Being the leader of the world means to be the leader of peace."
—NBC News (@NBCNews) March 16, 2022
The Ukrainian president said Russia has not just attacked Ukraine itself, but launched "a brutal offensive against our values, our human values." He said Ukraine was "fighting for the values of Europe and the world."
By assisting Ukraine, "the American people are helping not just Ukraine, but Europe and the world to keep the planet alive, to keep justice in history," Zelenskyy said.
In the lead-up to the Russian invasion, Putin baselessly suggested Ukraine was committing genocide against ethnic Russians and Russian speakers. Putin also said Russia would engage in the "de-Nazification" of Ukraine. Zelenskyy speaks Russian, is Jewish, and members of his family died in the Holocaust — highlighting how bizarre and unfounded Putin's justifications for the war have been.
Putin over the years has repeatedly suggested that Ukraine is not a real country, claiming Russians and Ukrainians are "one people." Biden, among others, has said that Putin wants to restore the Soviet Union.
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