‘Ukraine is alive and kicking’: From the war zone to the US Capitol, Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s historic visit

The Ukrainian leader’s dangerous journey highlights the importance of U.S. aid to his cause.

On the 300th day of Russia’s assault on Ukraine, Ukraine’s president left his country for the first time since the war began. And in a historic, almost surreal address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday night, Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged Americans to stay the course in their support for his country.

“Against all odds and doom-and-gloom scenarios,” he said, “Ukraine did not fold. Ukraine is alive and kicking.”

From touchdown to flight home, he spent only a few hours in Washington — a stopover that also included a meeting at the White House with President Joe Biden. The mere fact that Zelenskyy made the trip, from one of the world’s most dangerous battlefields to the U.S. Capitol, was a remarkable feat of logistics and security planning that were kept tightly under wraps until Tuesday.

“I am privileged to be here,” Zelenskyy said. And then he launched into a full-throated and strategic plea to American lawmakers to stay the course.

“Your well-being is a product of your national security, the result of your struggle for independence and your many victories,” he said. “We Ukrainians will also go through our war of independence and freedom with dignity and success.”

Zelenskyy has spoken to dozens of national legislatures since the war began — 38, at latest count — and he often includes messages meant to resonate with the local audience. His address to Congress was no exception. Zelenskyy referred to the Revolutionary War’s Battle of Saratoga, the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, and he quoted Franklin Roosevelt’s exhortation to “absolute victory.” And then, in a moment of flourish, he unfurled a Ukrainian flag that he had carried with him from Bakhmut. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) returned the favor and presented Zelenskyy with an American flag that had flown over the Capitol Wednesday.

“Next year will be a turning point,” Zelenskyy said, “the point where Ukrainian courage and American resolve will guarantee the future of our common freedom, the freedom of people who stand for their values.”

It was one of several lines that was met with loud applause.

Keeping an eye on Congress

As if to stress the point, Zelenskyy told the Congress, “We have artillery, yes, thank you. Is it enough? Honestly, not really.”

Biden used those same words Wednesday with Zelenskyy at his side. “The American people have been with you every step of the way, and we will stay with you,” Biden said. “We will stay with you for as long as it takes.”

For his part, Zelenskyy repeatedly referred to “members of both parties” and said that support should be “solid, bicameral and bipartisan.”

And as if to answer McCarthy’s “blank check” warning, the Ukrainian leader told the members of Congress that “your money is not charity.” U.S. aid, he said, “is an investment in global security and democracy that we will handle in the most responsible way.”

In his speech, Zelenskyy said simply, “Russia is poisoned by the Kremlin.”

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