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Zelenskyy invokes 9/11 and Pearl Harbor in appeal to Americans during speech

Ukraine’s president urged Americans to look to their own history in trying to understand what Ukrainians are going through.
/ Source: NBC News

WASHINGTON — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pleaded with Congress on Wednesday for more aggressive measures to help stop the war, including a no-fly zone, showing lawmakers a video of the death and devastation that has beset his country.

His appeal was direct, aimed not just at lawmakers but at President Joe Biden

“Being the leader of the world means to be the leader of peace,” Zelenskyy said.

“This is a terror that Europe has not seen for 80 years and we are looking for a reply, for an answer, to this terror, from the whole world,” Zelenskyy told lawmakers. “Is this a lot to ask for? To create a no-fly zone over Ukraine to save people, is that too much to ask?”

Knowing that the U.S. opposes a no-fly zone, Zelenskyy proposed what he called an “alternative”: planes to defend Ukrainian skies from Russian attacks. But the Biden administration has also ruled out sending fighter jets.

“Aircraft, powerful, strong aviation to protect our people, our freedom, our land. Aircraft that can help Ukraine,” Zelenskyy said. “You know that they exist, that you have them, but they are on the Earth, not in the Ukrainian sky. They do not defend our people.

“I have a need. I need to protect our sky. I need your decision, your help.”

Zelenskyy also urged Americans to look to their own history in trying to understand what Ukrainians are going through, invoking the “I Have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King Jr. but also the Pearl Harbor and Sept. 11 attacks.

“Remember Pearl Harbor. The terrible morning of December 7, 1941, when your sky was black from the planes attacking you. Just remember it,” Zelenskyy said. “Remember September 11, a terrible day in 2001 when evil tried to turn your cities, independent territories, in battlefields, when innocent people were attacked, attacked from air, yes.

"Just like nobody else expected it, you could not stop it,” he continued. “Our country experiences the same every day, right now, at this moment every night for three weeks now.”

Zelenskyy spoke one day after President Joe Biden signed into law a massive spending package that included $13.6 billion in military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine. At Congress’s urging, Biden also ordered a U.S. ban on imports of oil and other Russian energy products on the heels of sanctions that have hobbled Russia’s economy and financial institutions.

In his speech, Zelenskyy thanked the U.S. for the recent aid package, but he wants Biden and other world leaders to go further.

After Zelenskyy’s address to Congress, Biden is expected to announce details of U.S. military aid for Ukraine, two U.S. officials said.

Zelenskyy’s speech, which was livestreamed for the public, comes at a perilous moment for Ukraine. The war, now entering its fourth week, has killed hundreds of Ukrainians and forced nearly 3 million refugees to flee to neighboring countries.

In the capital, Kyiv, Mayor Vitali Klitschko imposed a 35-hour curfew Tuesday after Russian missile strikes destroyed apartment buildings and caused deaths.

Kyiv faces a “difficult and dangerous moment,” Klitschko said.

Before the speech, lawmakers said they were eager to hear what specific needs Zelenskyy has and how he thinks the U.S. can help Ukraine win the war.

“He’s got this one opportunity with us,” said Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., who met with Zelenskyy in Ukraine last year.

“Putin’s in a little bit of a corner, because he can’t back out,” Tuberville said. But Zelenskyy is “the guy that’s really in a corner and is being encircled every day. They’re coming after him. We all know that, and he knows that.”

This article originally appeared on NBC News.