WASHINGTON (NewNation) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed Congress after meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday, nearly 10 months into a brutal war that has displaced millions and killed thousands.
During his in-person address to a joint meeting of Congress, Zelenskyy said that “against all odds” Ukraine still stands. With lawmakers giving Zelenskyy a standing ovation after his remarks, the Ukrainian president declared that his country “will never surrender to Russia.”
Zelenskyy thanked “every American” for the aid the U.S. has provided to Ukraine. He believes next year will be a “turning point” in the war, “when Ukrainian courage and American resolve must guarantee the future of our common freedom — the freedom of people who stand for their values.”
At the end of his address, Zelenskyy presented lawmakers with a Ukrainian flag signed by troops in Bakhmut, which was held up behind him by Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Zelenskyy’s visit to Washington marks 300 days since Russia invaded Ukraine.
“300 days of Ukrainian people showing Russia and the world their steel backbone, their love of country and their unbreakable determination to choose their own path,” President Biden commented in a joint news conference at the White House with Zelenskyy ahead of the congressional address.
During the news conference, Biden vowed that Zelenskyy will “never stand alone” and pledged that the U.S. will continue to help Ukraine pursue “just peace.”
“We understand in our bones that Ukraine’s fight is part of something much bigger. The American people know that if we stand by in the face of such blatant attacks on liberty and democracy and the core principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, the world would surely face worse consequences,” Biden said.
Pressed on how Ukraine would try to bring an end to the conflict, Zelenskyy rejected Biden’s framing of a “just peace,” saying, “For me as a president, ‘just peace’ is no compromises.” He said the war would end once Ukraine’s sovereignty, freedom and territorial integrity were restored, as well as the “payback for all the damages inflicted by Russian aggression.”
“There can’t be any ‘just peace’ in the war that was imposed on us,” he added.
A White House official said a little before noon Wednesday that Zelenskyy landed in the U.S. for his first known trip to the country. When he arrived in Washington, Zelenskyy was greeted by President Biden and first lady Jill Biden.
During remarks before reporters, Zelenskyy gave his U.S. counterpart a military medal, passed along from a Ukrainian captain.
The highly sensitive trip comes as U.S. lawmakers are set to vote on a year-end spending package that includes about $45 billion in emergency assistance to Ukraine. The Pentagon is also preparing to send $1.8 billion in military aid in a massive package that will include, for the first time, Patriot surface-to-air missiles.
When asked whether sending the Patriot missiles can be seen as escalatory, Biden insisted that it is a defense system, adding: “We’d love to not have them use it.”
“It’s a defensive system,” Biden said. “It’s not escalatory — it’s defensive.”
Zelenskyy made it clear he will keep pressing Biden and other world leaders to support his country.
He said that after they had the Patriot system, “We will send another signal to President Biden that we would like to get more Patriots.”
Officials said the package will include about $1 billion in weapons from Pentagon stocks and $800 million in funding through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. The USAID also committed $374 million in humanitarian assistance for Ukrainians.
“The Patriot system is the most effective. Those are the best ones,” Zelenskyy told NewsNation’s Chris Cuomo Tuesday night. “I know that both of our countries are working closely to make sure Ukraine has a chance to have one of the most powerful and modern air defense systems.”
Hopeful lawmakers will approve the $45 billion in emergency assistance to Ukraine, Zelenskyy thanked members of Congress for their support and promised that every dollar of the investment would go to strengthening global security and saving millions of Ukrainians.
“I would like to thank you, thank you very much, thank you, for both financial packages you have already provided us with and the ones you may be willing to decide on. Your money is not charity. It’s an investment in the global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way,” Zelenskyy said in his congressional address.
“It is in your power really to help us bring to justice everyone who started this unprovoked and criminal war. Let’s do it. Let the terrorists be held responsible,” he added.
Zelenskyy headed abroad after making a daring and dangerous trip Tuesday to what he called the hottest spot on the 800-mile front line of the conflict, the city of Bakhmut in Ukraine’s contested Donetsk province. He praised Ukrainian troops for their “courage, resilience and strength” as artillery boomed in the background.
Biden and Zelenskyy first discussed the idea of a visit to Washington during their most recent phone call Dec. 11, and a formal invitation followed three days later, said a senior U.S. administration official.
The White House consulted with Zelenskyy on security for his departure from Ukraine and travel to Washington, including the risk of Russian action while Zelenskyy was briefly out of the country, the official added.
U.S. and Ukrainian officials have made clear they don’t envision an imminent resolution to the war and are preparing for fighting to continue for some time. Biden has repeated that while the U.S. will arm and train Ukraine, American forces will not be directly engaged in the conflict.
However, the White House is bracing for greater resistance to giving Ukraine more aid when Republicans take control of the House in January. Support for funding has begun to erode among congressional GOP members. Already, at least 57 have voted against aid packages, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said earlier this year there would be no “blank check” for Ukraine when his party takes control of the House in January.
Speaking to Cuomo, Zelenskyy said despite these comments, he remains confident Republicans will back future military aid for Ukraine.
“Of course, everybody in Ukraine worries about it. But politics is politics and a war for freedom is different,” Zelenskyy said. “It’s not about elections. It’s something more important, more ambitious, more important for next generations. So, we can’t speak politically about the war in Ukraine. You can do it during the elections, but now everything is over … and I think Republicans will support us.”
Biden and Zelenskyy frequently have talked by phone as the White House arranges new tranches of military assistance for Ukraine. The calls have been mostly warm, with Biden praising Ukraine for remaining steadfast against the Russians and Zelenskyy thanking the U.S. president for support.
The one exception was a June phone call soon after Biden notified Zelenskyy that an additional $1 billion package was headed to Ukraine. Zelenskyy didn’t miss a beat in ticking off the additional assistance he said Ukraine needed.
That irked Biden, who underscored to Zelenskyy the American people’s generosity. But the brief moment of tension hasn’t caused any lasting difficulty, according to officials familiar with the episode.
Russia’s invasion, which began Feb. 24, has lost momentum. The illegally annexed provinces of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia remain fiercely contested.
With the fighting in the east at a stalemate, Moscow has used missiles and drones to attack Ukraine’s power equipment, hoping to leave people without electricity as freezing weather sets in.
Biden said Russia is purposely attacking Ukraine’s critical infrastructure system during the coldest and darkest time of the year.
“Russia is using winter as a weapon. Freezing people, starving people, cutting them off from one another,” Biden said.
“We’ll celebrate Christmas and even if there is no electricity, the light in the faith in ourselves will not be put out. IF Russian missiles attack us, we’ll do our best to protect ourselves. If they attack us with Iranian drones and our people will have to go to bomb shelters on Christmas Eve, Ukrainians will still sit down at the holiday table and cheer up each other. We don’t have to know everyone’s wish, as we know that all of us, millions of Ukrainians, wish the same: victory and only victory,” Zelenskyy added in his congressional address.
Biden explained that he is working with Ukrainian allies to provide critical equipment to help with the stability of the country’s grid.
“It’s a really big mistake to think that this war is over,” Zelenskyy said. Even as the conflict continues, though, Zelenskky believes Ukraine will prevail.
Biden has made it clear he will continue supporting Ukraine: “We are staying with Ukraine as long as Ukraine is there.”
“I believe that we’ll win,” he said. “The entire world needs our victory.”
For his part, Putin on Tuesday hailed the “courage and self-denial” of his forces in Ukraine — but he did so at a ceremony in an opulent and glittering hall at the Kremlin in Moscow, not on the battlefield.
At the Kremlin ceremony, Putin presented awards to the Moscow-appointed heads of the four illegally annexed regions of Ukraine. In a video address honoring Russia’s military and security agencies, he praised the security personnel, saying that “Russian citizens count on being protected by you.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.