Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made a direct appeal to US lawmakers on Wednesday morning to approve a no-fly zone to stop the Russian bombing of his country and to enact other measures “to stop the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine.”
“I call on you to do more,” Zelensky said, speaking from the besieged capital city of Kyiv via livestream, asking for full sanctions on all Russian politicians who remain in their offices without condemning the invasion of Ukraine, more aid packages, and full withdrawal of all American companies from Russia.
“All American companies must leave Russia, leave their market immediately, because it is flooded with our blood,” he said.
The no-fly zone in particular, Zelensky said, could immediately save lives. The US and other Western leaders have adamantly resisted the idea because of the likelihood it would bring them into direct conflict with Russia. So Zelensky offered an alternative: providing Ukraine with military aircraft capable of combating the Russian aerial attacks.
“Is this too much to ask? A humanitarian no-fly zone. Something so that Russia would not be able to terrorize our free cities.”
President Joe Biden, responding to Zelensky's address a few hours later, reiterated that the US has committed $1 billion in security and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine in the past week, including $800 million in the form of 800 anti-aircraft systems and 9,000 anti-armor systems, and helping Ukraine acquire longer-range anti-aircraft systems. That's in addition to $200 million for weapons announced over the weekend.
The funding for Ukraine was approved by Congress last week as part of a $1.5 trillion budget package, which included $13.6 billion in total for Ukraine.
Biden did not specifically respond to Zelensky's call for a no-fly zone and further economic sanctions.
"These are atrocities. They’re an outrage to the world, and the world is united in our support for Ukraine and our determination to make Putin pay a very heavy price," Biden said.
As part of his plea for help, Zelensky spoke to Congress of a broader need for a new international agreement among world powers to more effectively work together to address crises, from war to natural disasters to pandemics.
“The wars of the past prompted our predecessors to create institutions to prevent war, but they unfortunately do not work,” he said.
Instead, he called for “a union of responsible countries” including the US, to work together to be prepared to “stop conflict immediately,” using financial sanctions and military and humanitarian aid within 24 hours when necessary.
Late in his speech, Zelensky showed a video that blended images of Ukraine before and after the invasion and Russian missile strikes, including graphic footage of injured civilians.
At least 600 civilians have been killed in the conflict, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, including a US journalist, with indications that Russian troops may be intentionally targeting civilians and journalists, despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s promise to Zelensky that Ukrainians would be allowed to evacuate through agreed-upon routes.
More than 3 million people have fled Ukraine in search of refuge since the beginning of the war last month, according to the International Organization for Migration.
Zelensky closed his address in English, telling US lawmakers that the battle for Ukraine is about more than just one country, and reminding them of the responsibilities of being a world power.
“Being the leader of the world means being the leader of peace. Peace in your country doesn't depend anymore only on you and your people. It depends on those next to you, and those who are strong,” he said.
“As the leader of my nation, I am addressing President Biden: You are the leader of the nation, of your great nation. I wish you to be the leader of the world. Being the leader of the world means to be the leader of peace."