Fatigue-Clad Zelensky Pleads with Lawmakers to Not Give Up on Ukraine

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Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

During a historic joint meeting of Congress on Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky argued that more aid for his war-torn country wasn’t just about helping Ukraine, but also about protecting democracy across the globe and curbing Russian aggression.

Zelensky’s rousing address may have been difficult for lawmakers to understand at all times, but the energy and passion came through in a packed House chamber.

Zelensky thanked Congress for its support thus far of a war that’s approaching its one-year anniversary. He also asked for more assistance and pleaded with lawmakers not to abandon Ukraine.

“We have artillery, yes, thank you. Is that enough? Not really,” Zelensky said.

The Ukrainian president, dressed in a plain green military sweater, said next year would be a “turning point” in the war to repel a Russian invasion. However, he made it clear that the U.S. aid to Ukraine was not something he considered a gift.

“Your money is not charity,” he said. “It’s an investment in the global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way.”

Wednesday’s security was increased all over Capitol grounds. Reporters were asked to eat their meals before sweeps began at 5 p.m. Only a few guests were allowed to view the speech from the upper galleries. Similar to the security measures used by the President of the United States for State of the Unions speeches, it was also similar. This trip is Zelensky’s first outside of Ukraine since the onset of the war—at least, as far as the public knows.

Mr. Zelensky Goes to Washington as a Winner

Around 7 p.m. members of the House and Senate made their way into the chamber, exchanging friendlyries in their caucuses and sometimes across the aisle. A few dozen wore Ukraine’s colors—yellow and blue—in their scarves, ties and elements of their outfits. Although the Democratic side was nearly full, there were a few empty seats on the Republican side. The Republican side of the chamber was somewhat less full, but was still fairly well attended. Among them, Senator Jon Tester (D–MT), and Rep. Jerry Nadler [D-NY] were among the few Democrats seen sitting beside Republicans.

As Zelensky walked, both Republicans and Democrats cheered and stood ovatoriously. A few Democrats also waved a Ukraine flag in his face. The Daily Beast only spotted a few Republicans not clapping during Zelensky’s entry, including Reps. Lauren Boebert (R-CO), Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Tim Burchett (R-TN), who remained the visibly least enthused trio in the chamber during the speech.

Zelensky was clear in his delivery of the address. He spoke of a nation that is persevering, despite being battered. Each line of his speech, which he used stilted English to deliver, was applauded by the members.

“Against all odds and doom and gloom… Ukraine is alive,” Zelensky told the chamber to a standing ovation.

Beyond the backdrop of Zelensky’s historic speech were his pleas for aid for his war-torn nation. The Senate could approve the latest funding package for government, which would add $45 billion to Ukraine’s budget. That number has been a point of contention for Republicans who’ve suggested the U.S. has done enough.

Biden and Zelensky met at the White House earlier in the day for an Oval Office greeting. Zelensky presented Biden with a gleaming Ukrainian cross for military merit that Biden called “undeserved, but much appreciated.” The duo later held a joint press conference, occasionally exchanging cheeky grins at times in a display of camaraderie between two leaders.

“It’s important for the American people and for the world to hear directly from you, Mr. President, about Ukraine’s fight and the need to continue to stand together through 2023,” Biden said at the event.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (who will soon be stepping down from her leadership role) also took the time Wednesday to acknowledge this historic moment.

In a “dear colleague” letter Wednesday morning, Pelosi described the speech as a “a moment fraught with meaning for [her].” During his own tenure in Congress, Pelosi’s father, Rep. Thomas D’Alesandro Jr. (D-MD) became a member of Congress in 1941, when Winston Churchill addressed Congress to enlist the U.S.’ support In defeating the Axis Powers of Germany, Italy, Japan and Japan in World War II.

“It is particularly poignant for me to be present when another heroic leader addresses the Congress in a time of war – and with Democracy itself on the line,” she wrote.

Pelosi, Schumer and Zelensky gave Zelensky a tour through the U.S. Capitol. McConnell joined the conversation midway.

After his remarks, Zelensky gave Pelosi a Ukraine Flag, while Pelosi handed Zelensky an engraved U.S. flag. The flag had been hung above the U.S. Capitol Wednesday to honor his visit. He carried it out through the middle of the aisle—while senators ushered themselves out, and the House proceeded on with business as usual.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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