By Terrance Turner
Dec. 21, 2022
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited the White House today. He met with U.S. President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi this afternoon. He spoke with reporters afterwards. Tonight, he’s addressing a joint session of Congress.
It’s a major moment in a momentous visit — the first he’s made as a wartime president. Zelenskyy hadn’t traveled outside the country since the war in Ukraine began. It’s been 10 months since the start of a brutal, bloody conflict that has ravaged his homeland.
Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 23, after weeks of tensions spurred partly by the prospect of Ukraine’s potential membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO. Air strikes were conducted. Russia fired over 400 missiles. Russian troops and tanks entered the country on three fronts: from Belarus in the north, from the east of Ukraine, and from the south.
Russian paratroopers seized the Antonov International Airport, located on the outskirts of Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv. Downed jets and missile strikes were reported in other parts of the country, according to the U.S. News & World Report. Russia took control of the Chernobyl nuclear plant.
The impact was devastating. Russian attacks destroyed schools and homes. Hundreds of civilians — many of them children — were killed. At least eight million people became internally displaced.
After months of Russian encroachment, Ukrainian forces pushed the Russian military back, reclaiming over a thousand square miles. Russia lost nearly all of the northeastern region of Kharkiv, infuriating Putin and demonstrating Ukraine’s ability to repel the Russian military by force. In response, the Russians attacked Ukrainian infrastructure, leaving many without power and water. They have no electricity for most of the day.
Now Ukraine is (mostly) in the dark. But its leader just stepped into a massive spotlight.
Zelenskyy entered the chambers of the House of Representatives, escorted by House members. Clad in his unofficial uniform of a green sweatshirt and cargo pants, Zelenskyy took the podium to thunderous applause. He got a standing ovation from members of Congress.
Zelenskyy opened his speech to a joint meeting of Congress with a direct address to the American people, appealing to shared values of freedom, justice and family in what read out like a letter.
“Dear Americans, in all states, cities and communities — all those who value freedom and justice, who cherish, as strongly as we Ukrainians, in our cities in each and every family, I hope my words of respect and gratitude resonate in each American heart,” he began.
“Dear members of Congress, representatives of both parties who also visited Kyiv; esteemed congressmen and senators from both parties — who will visit Ukraine, I am sure, in the future; dear journalists. It’s a great honor for me to be at the U.S. Congress and speak to you and all Americans.”
“Against all odds and doom and gloom scenarios, Ukraine didn’t fall,” he said. “Ukraine is alive and kicking.”
Zelenskyy updated the American people on Ukraine’s progress. “It gives me good reason to share with you our first joint victory. We defeated Russia in the battle for minds of the world.”
Congress burst into applause as he continued. “We have no fear, nor should anyone in the world have it. Ukraine’s gained this victory, and it gives us courage… Americans gained this victory. That’s why you have succeeded in uniting the global community to protect freedom,” he said. “Europeans gained this victory, and it’s why Europe is stronger and more independent than ever. The Russian tyranny has lost control over us.”
He implied that the Russian people can also gain such victory. “The Russians will stand a chance to be free only when they defeat the Kremlin in their minds,” he said. “Yet, the battle continues. And we have to defeat the Kremlin on the battlefield, yes.”
Zelenskyy emphasized unity with Americans, painting the war as a struggle for democracy.
This battle is not only for the territory, for this or another part of Europe. The battle is not only for life, freedom and security of Ukrainians or any other nation which Russia attempts to conquer.
“The struggle will define in what world our children and grandchildren will live, and then their children and grandchildren. It will define whether it will be a democracy of Ukrainians and for Americans, for all,” he said. “This battle cannot be frozen or postponed. It cannot be ignored hoping that the ocean or something else will provide a protection.”
“The world is too interconnected and interdependent to allow someone to stand aside and feel safe when such a battle continues,” he said. “Our two nations are allies in this battle. And next year will be important, at the point when Ukrainian urge and American resolve must guarantee the future of our common freedom — the freedom of people who stand for their values.”
Zelenskyy talked about his visit yesterday to the front lines in the city of Bakhmut in the Donbas region, which has seen months-long fighting.
According to ABC News, Zelenskyy invoked American war history, saying that the conflict there during Christmas resembles U.S. troops fighting Nazis at the Battle of the Bulge during World War II.
“Every inch of that land is soaked in blood. Roaring guns sound every hour,” he said. “The Russians’ tactic is primitive. They burn down and destroy everything they see. They sent convicts to the front lines. To the war. They threw everything against, similar to the other tyranny, which is in the Battle of the Bulge.”
“Just like the brave American soldiers who held their lines and fought back Hitler’s forces during the Christmas of 1944, brave Ukrainian soldiers are doing this same to Putin’s forces this Christmas,” he said to a standing ovation. “Ukraine holds its lines and will never surrender.”
We have artillery, yes. Thank you. We have it. Is it enough? Honestly, not really.” That line got laughs from the audience:
“To ensure Bakhmut is not just a stronghold that holds back the Russian Army, but for the Russian Army to completely pull out, more cannons and shells are needed. If so, just like the Battle of Saratoga, the fight for Bakhmut will change the trajectory of our war for independence and for freedom.
If your Patriots stop the Russian terror against our cities, it will let Ukrainian patriots work to the full to defend our freedom. When Russia — when Russia cannot reach our cities by its artillery, it tries to destroy them with missile attacks. More than that, Russia found an ally in this — in this genocidal policy: Iran.
Iranian deadly drones sent to Russia in hundreds — in hundreds became a threat to our critical infrastructure. That is how one terrorist has found the other.
It is just a matter of time when they will strike against your other allies if we do not stop them now. We must do it.”
Alliance & Independence
Zelenskyy reminded lawmakers that he has never asked for U.S. troops on the ground. American leaders have long resisted the idea. And so does Zelenskyy.
“I believe in us and our alliance. Ukraine never asked the American soldiers to fight on our land instead of us. I assure you that Ukrainian soldiers can perfectly operate American tanks and planes themselves,” he said.
Zelenskyy thanked the United States for its assistance. “I would like to thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you, for those financial packages and the ones you may be willing to decide on,” he said. “Your money is not charity. It’s an investment in the global security and democracy, that we handle in the most responsible way,” he said, to applause and cheers.
“Russia could stop its aggression, really, if it wanted to. But you can speed up our victory. I know it. And it, it will prove to any potential aggressor that no one can succeed in breaking national borders. No one committing atrocities and reigning over people against their will.
It would be naïve to wait for steps towards peace from Russia, which enjoys being a terrorist state. Russians are still poisoned by the Kremlin.
The restoration of international legal order is our joint task. We need peace, yes. Ukraine has already offered proposals, which I just discussed with President Biden, our peace formula, 10 points which should and must be implemented for our joint security[…].
I’m glad to say that President Biden supported our peace initiative today. Each of you, ladies and gentlemen, can assist in the implementation to ensure that America’s leadership remains solid, bicameral and bipartisan. Thank you.”
Zelenskyy tailored his message to the upcoming holiday. “Ladies and gentlemen, Americans: In two days we will celebrate Christmas. Maybe candlelit. Not because it’s more romantc,” he said, “but because there will not be — there will be no electricity. Millions won’t have neither heating nor running water. All of these will be the result of Russian missile and drone attacks on our energy infrastructure.
But we do not complain. We do not judge and compare whose life is easier. Your well-being is the product of your national security; the result of your struggle for independence and your many victories. We, Ukrainians, will also go through our war of independence and freedom with dignity and success.
We’ll celebrate Christmas. Celebrate Christmas and, even if there is no electricity, the light of our faith in ourselves will not be put out. If Russian — if Russian missiles attack us, we’ll do our best to protect ourselves. If they attack us with Iranian drones and our people will have to go to bomb shelters on Christmas Eve, Ukrainians will still sit down at the holiday table and cheer up each other. And we don’t have to know everyone’s wish, as we know that all of us, millions of Ukrainians, wish the same: Victory. Only victory.”
“Now, on this special Christmastime, I want to thank you, all of you. I thank every American family which cherishes the warmth of its home and wishes the same warmth to other people. I thank President Biden and both parties, at the Senate and the House, for your invaluable assistance.” Additionally, “I thank your cities and your citizens who supported Ukraine this year, who hosted our Ukrainians, our people, who waved our national flags, who acted to help us. Thank you all,” Zelenskyy said.