Zelenskiy invokes Pearl Harbor and 9/11 as he calls for more US help in speech to Congress

Ukrainian president issues emotional appeal to US politicians on day 21 of Russian invasion

From the besieged capital of Ukraine, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy pleaded with the US Congress on Wednesday to do more to save his nation and preserve democratic values, in an emotional appeal that invoked the painful memories of Pearl Harbor and 9/11 and echoed Martin Luther King's call for a more peaceful future.

The remarks to members of both chambers of Congress came on day 21 of the battle for Ukraine's survival under an intensifying assault from Russia, which Mr Zelenskiy said had killed more than 100 children.

Wearing his green army T-shirt, with a Ukrainian flag draped behind him, Mr Zelenskiy was direct as he spoke by video link into the Capitol: “I call on you to do more.”

“The destiny of our country is being decided,” he told Congress. “We need you right now.”


Mr Zelenskiy asked the US to send more military aid and to impose harsh new sanctions on Russian politicians. Accepting that the imposition of a no-fly zone over Ukraine was unlikely, he asked the packed auditorium of US politicians to consider an “alternative”, including more aircraft and better weaponry, to help Ukraine “close the skies”.

In referencing Pearl Harbor and 9/11, attacks that came from the sky, he asked members of Congress to imagine Ukraine’s experience: “Our country experiences this every day, right now, at this moment, every night for three weeks now.”

He also played a video that showed Ukraine as it was before Russia’s invasion, and the horror that has been wrought on its people since.

Before and after he spoke, politicians gave him a standing ovation. Mr Zelenskiy placed his hand over his heart in gratitude. He delivered most of his speech in Ukrainian, but made a final appeal in English.

“I see no sense in life if it cannot stop the deaths,” he said, appearing emotional as he spoke of the children who have died in the bombardment.

Visibly moved

Politicians left the auditorium visibly moved by the remarks of the embattled Ukrainian leader, as he rallies his nation amid what many believe is the most dangerous security threat to Europe since the end of the second World War.

Senator Ben Sasse, a Republican from Nebraska, implored the US to send more military assistance.

“They’re fighting for the free world,” he said. “We’re a superpower. We should act like it.”

US president Joe Biden has said he speaks to the Ukrainian leader privately nearly every day. But on Wednesday, before the US president was due to speak, Mr Zelenskiy asked him publicly to do more to stop the bloodshed.

“You are the leader of your great nation. I wish you to be the leader of the world,” he said. “Being the leader of the world means to be the leader of peace.”

Mr Biden later said the United States was offering an additional $800 million (about €728 million) in security assistance to Ukraine to fight Russia, with the new package including drones and anti-armour systems. A White House official said this brought the total sum of such aid announced in the past week to $1 billion.

Speaking to reporters, Mr Biden described Russian president Vladimir Putin as “a war criminal”. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the comment was “unacceptable and unforgivable rhetoric”, according to Tass news agency.

More than 3 million people have fled Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion, causing the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since the second World War.

Mr Zelenskiy’s speech followed his similar addresses to the UK parliament, in which he invoked Shakespeare and echoed Winston Churchill’s famous wartime oration to the House of Commons about defiance in the face of an overwhelming aggressor.

On Tuesday, Mr Zelenskiy had appealed to Canada’s parliament, and the nation’s large Ukrainian diaspora, to rally behind his country.

A growing chorus of politicians on Capitol Hill are publicly pressuring Mr Biden to increase military aid to Ukraine, including sending fighter jets and air-defence systems. – Guardian