Zelensky’s address to Congress, annotated


By Zachary B. Wolf, Curt Merrill and Ji Min Lee, CNN

Published March 16, 2022

Under siege in Kyiv, his country invaded by Russia and in desperate need of help, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky implored American lawmakers for more — more lethal aid, a no-fly zone over his country and more sanctions on Russians.

As NATO member countries refuse to get directly involved in the conflict, Zelensky proposed a new international security organization and asked President Joe Biden to be the leader not only of the US, but also of the world.

Zelensky has been on a tour of Western governing bodies. He invoked Winston Churchill in a virtual address to the UK parliament. His translator choked up with emotion when he addressed the European Union parliament. Zelensky used the Canadian prime minister’s first name, Justin, to plead for more direct help before the Canadian parliament.

Foreign leaders have addressed Congress before, including Churchill and Nelson Mandela. But they have never done it virtually from a war zone.

Read Zelensky’s speech to the US Congress, along with context, below.

As delivered via interpreter

Thank you very much. Madam Speaker, members of the Congress, ladies and gentlemen, Americans, friends, I’m proud to greet you from Ukraine, from our capital city of Kyiv, a city that is under missile and airstrikes from Russian troops every day. But it doesn’t give up, and we have not even thought about it for a second.

Zelensky is speaking to the US Congress from a war zone. Rather than convene in the ornate and formal House chamber, senators and congressional members are gathered in an auditorium in the Capitol complex.

Just like many other cities and communities in our beautiful country which found themselves in the worst war since World War II. I have the honor to greet you on behalf of the Ukrainian people, brave and freedom-loving people who for eight years have been resisting the Russian aggression.

Russia annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea in 2014 and fomented a separatist rebellion in the east of the country. Ukraine’s then-President Petro Poroshenko addressed a joint session of Congress in person and asked US lawmakers for more direct aid to stand up to Russia. The Obama administration granted security assistance but not lethal aid. The conflict simmered on, leaving some 14,000 people dead in the years leading up to Russia’s full invasion of Ukraine in February.

Those who give their best sons and daughters to stop this full-scale Russian invasion. Right now the destiny of our country is being decided. The destiny of our people, whether Ukrainians will be free, whether they will be able to preserve their democracy. Russia has attacked not just us, not just our land, not just our cities; it went on a brutal offensive against our values, basic human values. It threw tanks and planes against our freedom, against our right to live freely in our own country choosing our own future.

These words speak directly to the fundamentals of American government — life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and the ability of people to choose their government.

Against our desire for happiness, against our national dreams, just like the same dreams you have, you Americans. Just like anyone else in the United States. I remember your national memorial in [Mount] Rushmore, the faces of your prominent presidents, those who laid the foundation of the United States of America as it is today — democracy, independence, freedom and care for everyone, for every person, for everyone who works diligently, who lives honestly, who respects the law.

We in Ukraine want the same for our people. All that is a normal part of your own life. Ladies and gentlemen, friends, Americans, in your great history, you have pages that would allow you to understand Ukrainians, understand us now when you need it right now. When we need you right now.

Here, Zelensky is essentially saying, “Help us and our democracy. Help us emulate you.”

Remember Pearl Harbor. Terrible morning of December 7, 1941, when your sky was black from the planes attacking you. Just remember it. Remember September 11th, a terrible day in 2001 when evil tried to turn your cities, independent territories in battlefields. When innocent people were attacked from air, yes. Just like nobody else expected it, you could not stop it.

December 7, a day that President Franklin D. Roosevelt said would “live in infamy” in an address to Congress. September 11, a day that led the US to ask NATO allies for help. These are also days in which the US was attacked from the sky. Today, Zelensky wants a no-fly zone over Ukraine.

Our country experienced the same every day. Right now, at this moment, every night for three weeks now, various Ukrainian cities: Odesa … [names long list of Ukrainian cities], Russia has turned the Ukrainian sky into a source of death for thousands of people. Russian troops have already fired nearly 1,000 missiles at Ukraine, countless bombs, they use drones to kill us with precision. This is a terror that Europe has not seen for 80 years and we are asking for our life for an answer to this terror from the whole world.

Is this a lot to ask for, to create a no-fly zone over Ukraine to save people? Is this too much to ask? Humanitary, no-fly zone, something that Russia will not be able to terrorize our free cities.

The Biden administration has repeatedly rejected Zelensky’s calls for NATO to enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine — or transfer fighter jets to Ukraine — arguing it would draw the US into an active war with Russia and is a recipe for World War III. Military experts have questioned whether a no-fly zone would stop the attacks.

If this is too much to ask, we offer an alternative. 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 aviation to protect our people, our freedom, our land. Aircrafts that can help Ukraine, help Europe and you know that they exist and you have them but they are on Earth, not in Ukraine in the Ukrainian sky. They do not defend our people.

Zelensky asks for alternative types of help — direct help that is less than a no-fly zone, including Soviet-made S-300 air defense missile systems, which could be provided by other countries. But Biden has also rejected proposals to give Ukraine US fighter jets and also to give Poland American jets so that country could offload its Soviet-era jets to Ukraine.

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. I need your decision, your help, which means exactly the same, the same you feel when you hear the words, “I have a dream.”

Zelensky has spoken to the EU parliament, the UK parliament and the Canadian parliament, each time with a tailored message. Here he invokes statements made by American civil rights hero Martin Luther King Jr., much as he did with famous statements by Churchill before the UK parliament.

Ladies and gentlemen, friends, Ukraine is grateful to the United States for its overwhelming support, for everything that your government and your people have done for us, for weapons and ammunition for training, for finances, for leadership in the free world, which helps us to pressure the aggressor economically.

The US approved $13.6 billion for Ukraine as part of a massive spending bill that was signed into law this week.

I’m grateful to President Biden for his personal involvement, for his sincere commitment to the defense of Ukraine and democracy all over the world. I am grateful to you for the resolution which recognizes all those who commit crimes against Ukraine, against the Ukrainian people as war criminals. However, now, it is true in the darkest time for our country, for the whole Europe, I call on you to do more. New packages of sanctions are needed, constantly, every week until the Russian military machine stops.

Zelensky has repeatedly expressed his gratitude for US and NATO support, while repeatedly calling on the West to supply more aid and apply more pressure on Russia.

Restrictions are needed for everyone on whom this unjust regime is based. We propose that the United States sanctions all politicians in the Russian Federation who remain in their offices and do not cut ties with those who are responsible for the aggression against Ukraine, from state Dumas members to the last official who has lack of moral to break this state terror. All [American companies] must leave Russia from their market, leave their market immediately because it is flooded with our blood. Ladies and gentlemen, members of Congress, please take the lead if you have companies in your district who finance the Russian military machine leaving business in Russia, you should put pressure. I’m asking to make sure that the Russians do not receive a single penny that they use to destroy people in Ukraine. The destruction of our country, the destruction of Europe. All American ports should be closed for Russian goods. We’re — peace is more important than income and we have to defend this principle in the whole world.

The severity of sanctions by the US and the West has been nothing short of remarkable. Russia is set to default on foreign loans as soon as this week. But Zelensky wants more to be done. Sanction all Russian politicians, not just specific ones, he argues. Require US companies to leave Russian markets.

By saying “peace is more important than income,” Zelensky is suggesting that some things — the defense of democracy and the international rules-based order — are more important than the damage that sanctions will do to the global economy.

We already became part of the anti-war coalition, a big anti-war coalition that unites many countries, dozens of countries, those who reacted in principle to President Putin’s decision to invade our country, but we need to move on and do more. We need to create new tools to respond quickly and stop the war, the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, which began on February 24th. And it would be fair if it ended in a day, that in 24 hours, that evil would be punished immediately. Today the world does not have such tools. The war of the past have prompted our predecessors to create institutions that should protect us from war, but they unfortunately dont work. We see it, you see it, so we need new ones, new institutions, new alliances and we offer them.

If Russia were to attack a NATO member, NATO allies would be compelled to come to that country’s defense under Article 5 of the organizations charter. But Ukraine is not a member of the alliance, and Biden and other NATO leaders have said they have no plans to send troops into the country.

We propose to create an association U-24 united for peace, a union of responsible countries that have the strength and consciousness to stop conflicts immediately, 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 save the world, save lives.

This is an interesting idea — a new international agreement that sounds like an alternative to NATO, of which Ukraine is not a member, and the United Nations, where Russia has the ability to veto most things as a permanent member of the Security Council. Zelensky may also be seeking to signal less of a desire for Ukraine to join NATO, a red line for Putin.

In addition, such association, such union would provide assistance to those who are experiencing natural disasters, man-made disasters, who fell victims to humanitarian crisis or epidemic. Remember how difficult it was for the world to do the simplest things, just to give vaccines, vaccines against Covid to save lives, to prevent new strains. The world spent months, years doing things like that much faster, to make sure there are no human losses, no victims.

The world is still very far behind in giving access to Covid-19 vaccines to developing nations. Zelensky also seems to nod to climate change here, which experts say will become the major worldwide threat.

Ladies and gentlemen, Americans, if such alliance would exist today, that is U-24, we would be able to save thousands of lives in our country. In many countries of the world, those who need peace, those who suffer inhumane destruction. I ask you to watch one video, video of what the Russian troops did in our country, in our land. We have to stop it. We must prevent it, preventably destroy every single aggressor who seeks to subjugate other nations.

Please watch the video.

The video is graphic and hard to watch. It shows children killed and wounded. Russian forces have increasingly targeted civilian areas, a violation of international law.

[IN ENGLISH] And in the end, to sum it up, today, today it is not enough to be the leader of the nation. Today takes to be the leader of the world. Being the leader of the world means to be the leader of peace. Peace in your country doesn’t depend anymore only on you and your people. It depends on those next to you, on those who are strong. Strong doesn’t mean weak. Strong is brave and ready to fight for the life of his citizens and citizens of the world. For human rights, for freedom, for the right to live decently, and to die when your time comes. And not when it’s wanted by someone else. By your neighbor.

Zelensky switches to English here and delivers a direct plea to Biden, the US President who also aspires to be the leader of the free world. What’s happening to people in Ukraine, Zelensky says, affects every democracy.

[IN ENGLISH] Today the Ukrainian people are defending not only Ukraine, we are fighting for the values of Europe and the world, [inaudible] in the name of the future. That’s why today the American people are helping not just Ukraine, but Europe and the world, to keep the planet alive, to keep justice in history. Now I’m almost 45 years old. Today my age stopped when the heart of more than 100 children stopped beating.

I see no sense in life if it cannot stop the deaths. And this is my main issue as the leader of my people, great Ukrainians, and as the leader of my nation, I am addressing the President Biden, you are the leader of the nation, of your great nation. I wish you to be the leader of the world. Being the leader of the world means to be the leader of peace.

This is a direct message to Biden, who has tried to make his presidency about defending democracy from autocracies, but has also refused to tempt World War III by doing more for Ukraine.

Thank you.

[IN UKRAINIAN] Glory to Ukraine.

[IN ENGLISH] Thank you for your support.