Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met with President Joe Biden at the White House on Wednesday — his first trip outside his homeland since the Russian invasion began in February. The visit came ahead of the Ukrainian President’s address to Congress as he seeks military and economic support from his top international partner to counter Russian attacks.
Zelensky entered the chamber at around 7:36 pm E.T. and greeted Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “Members of Congress, I have the high privilege and distinct honor of presenting to you Volodymyr Zelensky, President of Ukraine,” Pelosi announced as Zelensky took to the podium.
Zelensky stood in front of the chamber in a simple green sweater and pants as members of Congress gave him a two-minute standing ovation. In his speech, he thanked his allies for the support and underscored the victories made so far, while also looking to strengthen sanctions against Russia.
“Against all odds and doom and gloom, Ukraine didn’t fall. Ukraine is alive and kicking,” said the Ukrainian president at the beginning of his address, thanking those present. “The Russian tyranny has lost control over.”
“Russians will stand a chance to be free only when they defeat the Kremlin in their minds. Yet, the battle continues… The struggle will define what world our children will live [in],” Zelensky continued. “This battle cannot be frozen or postponed, or ignored, hoping the ocean or something else will provide protection. The world is too interconnected and interdependent to allow someone to stay aside and at the same time feel safe when such a battle continues. Our nations are allies in this battle.”
During his address, Zelensky spoke directly to the American people and emphasized the need for additional U.S. support. “Financial assistance is also critically important… Your money is not charity, it’s an investment in the global security that we handle in the most responsible way. Russia could stop its aggression if it wanted to, but you can speed up our victory,” he said. “Let the world see that the United States are here.”
At the end of his address, Zelensky unfolded a Ukrainian flag signed by soldiers to Congress.
“I know that everything depends on us, on Ukrainian armed forces, yet so much depends on the world. So much in the world depends on you,” he told lawmakers as they debate additional funding to Ukraine. “When I was in Bakhmut yesterday, our heroes gave me the flag, the battle flag, the flag of those who defend Ukraine, Europe and the world at the cost of their lives.”
Pelosi then gifted Zelensky a folded U.S. flag that was flown over the Capitol in honor of his visit. He held it to applause, and then closed his speech by saying, “Merry Christmas and happy victorious new year.”
Earlier on Wednesday, Zelensky sat down with Biden for a discussion in the Oval Office about the country’s future with Ukraine. Zelensky expressed “all my appreciations from my heart, from the heart of Ukrainians, all Ukrainians, from our nation,” according to CNN.
“It’s an honor to be by your side in the united defense against what is a brutal, brutal war that is being waged by Putin,” Biden said. “The Ukrainian people continue to inspire the world,” he continued. “I mean that sincerely — not just inspire us, but inspire the world with their courage.”
Leading up to Zelensky’s visit, the Biden administration announced it would send nearly $2 billion in additional security assistance to Ukraine, including a sophisticated new Patriot missile battery, CNN reported. The Patriot could aid Ukraine’s defense against Russian missile attacks that Zelensky previously said have targeted about half of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.
In November, the U.S. announced they would send $400 million in military aid, including the Hawk and Avenger air defense missile systems — legacy weapons designed at the height of the Cold War to destroy enemy aircraft.
Security was tight around Zelensky’s arrival amid concerns that Russia aims to incapacitate the Ukrainian president, a source told CNN on Wednesday. According to the source, his arrival was a calculated military risk. Zelensky regarded the U.S. decision to send the Patriot missile defense system long sought by Ukraine’s government as a major shift between the allies, and a decision that seems to have influenced his visit to Washington.