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Zelenskyy calls on U.S. to 'do more' in virtual address to Congress

Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP
In this image from video provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office and posted on Facebook on Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks in Kyiv.

Updated March 16, 2022 at 12:00 PM ET

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivered an impassioned plea to the U.S. Congress on Wednesday morning for additional aid and for President Biden to spearhead the world's defense of Ukraine.

While Zelenskyy delivered the majority of his speech in Ukrainian with an English translator, he ended his remarks speaking in English, addressing Biden directly.

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

Biden is expected to deliver a response to the speech later Wednesday.

In pleading for the U.S. to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine, Zelenskyy showed a video of the violence happening throughout his country; it featured graphic footage of injured and dead civilians, weeping and screaming people of all ages, hospital patients, and destroyed buildings. It ended showing the words: "close the sky over Ukraine."

The U.S. has dismissed this as an option, arguing it could further escalate international tensions between NATO members and Russia.

Zelenskyy did acknowledge the White House's hesitancy on imposing a no-fly zone and asked for additional aircraft military assistance instead.

"We offer an alternative," Zelensky said, "You know what kind of defense systems we need, S-300 and other similar systems, you know how much depends on the battlefield — on the ability to use aircraft, powerful, strong air aviation to protect our people, our freedom, our land."

Zelenskyy cited key moments in American history in his plea to Congress

Throughout the speech, Zelenskyy referred to pivotal moments in American history where the country was attacked, including Pearl Harbor and Sept. 11, 2001. He characterized the Sept. 11 attacks as events where "evil tried to turn your cities, independent territories, in[to] battlefields."

"In your great history, you have pages that would allow you to understand Ukrainians, understand us now," Zelenskyy said through an interpreter.

He also invoked similar rhetoric heard by the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in his I Have a Dream speech.

"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," Zelenskyy said. "I need your decision, your help, which means exactly the same, the same you feel when you hear the words 'I have a dream.' "

The speech comes as the Ukrainian death toll climbs and the Russian bombing, now in its third week, spreads farther west across Ukraine. According to the United Nations, almost 700 civilians have been killed in Ukraine since Russia's invasion.

"Now I'm almost 45 years old," Zelenskyy said in English. "Today my age stopped when the heart of more than 100 children stop beating. I see no sense in life if it cannot stop the deaths."

The most recent numbers from the U.N. indicateindicate that closer to 50 children have been confirmed dead as of March 14, though total counts can be "considerably higher." It also notes that according to a report from the Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights, as of Tuesday, 97 children had been killed.

Zelenskyy proposed a new global alliance

Throughout the war, Russian forces have launched deadly attacks across the country, concentrating efforts in eastern and southern flanks of the country which are closer to the Russian border. Just Tuesday, Russian missiles struck two apartment buildings within the capital city of Kyiv.

Over the weekend, Russian attacks moved farther west, including within the city of Lviv, which sits close to Poland, a NATO ally.

In his speech Wednesday, Zelenskyy proposed a new global alliance between the United States and European allies.

"We propose to create an association, U24, 'United for Peace,' a union of responsible countries that have the strength and consciousness to stop conflict immediately," he said.

Zelenskyy explained the group would "provide all the necessary assistance in 24 hours. If necessary, even weapons, if necessary sanctions, humanitarian support, political support, finances, everything you need to keep the peace and quickly the save the world to save lives."

The White House is still hoping to maintain diplomacy with Russia but in a conversation with Russian General Nikolay Patrushev on Tuesday, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan reaffirmed the White House's pledge to back Ukraine and the eastern portion of NATO if fighting continues.

Sullivan also told Patrushev, who is secretary of the Russian security council, that any use of chemical or biological weapons on Ukrainians would escalate U.S. responses against Russia.

Last week, Congress approved a bill that provided $13.6 billion for military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine. President Biden also announced that the U.S. would ban Russian oil imports and attempt to take away Russia's trade relations statuswith the U.S.

Zelenskyy's address Wednesday follows one to Canada's Parliament on Tuesday and the British House of Commons on March 8 where he made similar asks for global assistance.

Before the speech began Wednesday, Zelenskyy's video appearance was met with a standing ovation from the crowded room of U.S. lawmakers.

He went on to receive an introduction from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

"Slava Ukraini," Pelosi said, which translates to "glory to Ukraine." Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.