WASHINGTON — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged American lawmakers to do more to protect his country from Russia's invasion in an address to the US Congress on Wednesday (March 16) and pleaded with President Joe Biden to be the world's "leader of peace."
"Russia has turned the Ukrainian sky into a source of death for thousands of people," Zelenskiy said in a virtual address before showing graphic video of death and destruction in his country that ended with an appeal to "close the sky over Ukraine."
Zelenskiy continued his push for the imposition of a no-fly zone over Ukraine and asked for aircraft and defensive systems to respond to the invasion launched by Russian last month that has unleashed a wave of refugees. He also called for more economic sanctions against Russia.
Ukraine is facing terror that Europe had not experienced since World War Two and the nation's destiny is being decided, Zelenskiy said through an interpreter.
"Is this a lot to ask for — to create a no-fly zone over Ukraine to save people? Is this too much?" Zelenskiy asked in remarks from Kyiv, a capital city attacked every day that he said "doesn't give up."
Zelenskiy closed with a direct plea in English to Biden: "I wish you to be the leader of the world. Being the leader of the world means to be the leader of peace."
He received standing ovations before and after his remarks.
Zelenskiy invoked American history, asking the lawmakers to remember the 1941 Japanese bombing of Hawaii's Pearl Harbor, the 2001 al Qaeda attacks on the US and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1963 "I have a dream" speech in Washington.
"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," Zelenskiy said.
Democratic and Republican lawmakers said after the speech that they were ready to do more for Ukraine quickly by clamping down on Russia, providing more military aid including aircraft and tightening global human rights law. But they again rejected a no-fly zone, saying there was too great a risk of wider war with nuclear-armed Russia.
Biden and Nato also have opposed establishing a no-fly zone. The White House has not supported a proposal to help transfer Russian-made MiG warplanes into Ukraine, although that idea has some support in Congress - especially among opposition Republicans.
Zelenskiy said Ukraine is grateful to the US for its overwhelming support and to Biden "for his personal involvement, for his sincere commitment to the defense of Ukraine and democracy all over the world."
"In the darkest time for our country - for the whole Europe - I call on you to do more," Zelenskiy added.
The video presented during his remarks showed buildings exploding into fire, dead and wounded people as well as babies cradled by soldiers and police officers.
Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a "special operation."
Billions in aid
Biden on Tuesday (March 15) signed into law $13.6 billion (S$18.5 billion) in emergency aid to Ukraine to help it obtain more weaponry and for humanitarian assistance. He previously announced a ban on Russian energy imports and called for a suspension of a trading status that lowers tariffs on Russian exports. The House is expect to vote to suspend that status as soon as this week.
The Senate on Tuesday passed a resolution condemning Russian President Vladimir Putin as a war criminal.
Zelenskiy, who sought to shore up support for his country in speeches to foreign audiences, on Tuesday made a plea to Canada's parliament for a no-fly zone and more Western sanctions on Russia. He made similar appeals to the British and European parliaments this month.
US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi introduced him with Ukrainian words meaning "glory to Ukraine." At the conclusion of his remarks, Zelenskiy waved and put his hand on his chest in thanks for the reception.
Support for Ukraine is a rare instance in which Republicans and Biden's fellow Democrats have aligned in the sharply divided Congress.
"The carnage is not coming from Russian airplanes and the Russian air force, it's coming from the ground and from missiles," said Representative Hakeem Jeffries, chairman of the House Democratic caucus, making reference to the proposed no-fly zone.
Republican Representative Liz Cheney said the US has done a great deal and should do more quickly, noting that Biden can do more on his own.
"The United States has got to lead. Our own freedom and security depends upon it. And there can be no equivocation between our support for Ukraine versus Russia," Cheney told reporters.