Ukraine’s first lady Olena Zelenska has appealed directly to US politicians for more air defence systems to help guard her country’s skies.
She spoke during an unsparing Capitol address showing the blood-stained prams and small crumpled bodies left by Russia’s bombardments.
“We want no more air strikes, no more missile strikes,” Ms Zelenska told Republican and Democratic congressional members in a speech capping a visit to Washington in the place of her husband, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
“Is this too much to ask for?,” she asked.
‘For a long time Wagner were regarded as scruffy mercenaries and not taken seriously. Western armies have finally woken up’
“This is what I’m asking for and what my husband is asking for, as parents,” she said from the stage of the Capitol’s congressional auditorium, showing photographs of carnage on an overhead screen that had politicans shaking their heads.
Ms Zelenska’s Washington meetings with first lady Jill Biden, President Joe Biden and other top administration figures have been among her highest-profile events of the war.
She spent the first two months after Russian president Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine in late February in seclusion with her two children for safety. Her husband has remained in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, through the war.
He made a powerful address by video to politicians in the same auditorium earlier this year, drawing repeated standing ovations.
Ms Zelenska repeatedly thanked politicians and Mr Biden for the billions of dollars in arms and other support the US has delivered to Ukraine to help it battle Russian forces and jets. She called for more anti-air defence to help repel what have been unending Russian missile and air strikes that have killed countless civilians and levelled some Ukrainian cities.
She showed photographs of a smiling, paint-smeared four-year-old girl, Liza Dmitrieva, whom the first lady met before Christmas. The screen next showed an overturned pram with blood caking the pavement beneath it, after an air strike killed the girl and badly hurt her mother last week.
Ms Zelenska showed and told the stories of other Ukrainian children killed or maimed by air strikes or shot to death as their families tried to flee with them. “Our family represents the whole world for us, and we do everything to preserve it,” she said. “We cry when we cannot save it. And we remain completely broken when our world is destroyed by war.”
The speech was an unexpected change in tone for a visit whose previous public moments had included receiving a bouquet from Mr Biden at the White House, an award ceremony and a visit to a local monument for Ukrainians.
“We’ve seen from Ukrainian leadership their courage but also their no-nonsense direct appeal and laying out the brutal mentality of Mr Putin,” Senator Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, said as politicians filed out.
House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, and other top leaders and rank-and-file politicians listened.
Earlier on Wednesday Ukrainian forces struck and seriously damaged a bridge that is key for supplying Russian troops in southern Ukraine, a regional official said.
The development came as Russian shelling killed civilians, including a 13-year-old boy, in the embattled country’s north-east.
Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the Moscow-backed temporary administration for the Russia-controlled southern Kherson region, said the Ukrainian military struck the Antonivskyi Bridge, which crosses the Dnieper River, with missiles on Wednesday, scoring 11 hits. He said in remarks carried by the Interfax news agency the almost mile-long bridge sustained serious damage but was not closed for traffic.
Mr Stremousov said the Ukrainian forces used US-supplied Himars multiple rocket launchers, saying some were intercepted by Russian air defences. The bridge wasn’t closed, traffic across it is still continuing, but the situation is serious,” Mr Stremousov said, according to Interfax.
The bridge is the main crossing across the Dnieper River in the Kherson region. – AP