Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy summoned the memory of Pearl Harbor and the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in appealing Wednesday to the U.S. Congress to do more to help Ukraine's fight against Russia.
Livestreamed into the Capitol complex, Zelenskyy said the U.S. must sanction Russian lawmakers and block imports. But rather than an enforced no-fly zone that the White House has resisted, he instead sought other military aid to stop the Russian assault.
His appeal touched both Somerset's Congressman Hal Rogers and Kentucky U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader.
"Our hearts are heavier today after hearing President Zelenskyy's plea for help in his war-torn country," Rogers said. "His video of the chilling, deadly destruction taking place in Ukraine served as a grave reminder of the unwarranted barbaric terror that Vladimir Putin has unleashed from Russia on his peaceful neighbors."
"President Zelenskyy didn't mince words about what Ukraine needs – urgently – to keep up the fight: more lethal capabilities and heavier sanctions against Russia. And especially the air defense systems that we should have helped Ukraine get weeks ago," McConnell said. "His people face a long and difficult road ahead. And the entire world knows what they're up against. The scale of Russia's aggression wasn't just foreseeable. It was foreseen. For 30 years, every step toward democracy and sovereignty in eastern Europe has tempted the wrath of revanchist autocrats like Putin."
President Joe Biden said Wednesday the U.S. is sending more anti-aircraft, anti-armor weapons and drones to Ukraine to assist in its defense against Russia, announcing the help after Zelenskyy's appeal.
The president's comments came as he formally announced his administration was sending an additional $800 million in military assistance to Ukraine, making a total of $2 billion in such aid sent to Kyiv since Biden took office more than a year ago. About $1 billion in aid has been sent in just the last week. Biden said the new assistance includes 800 Stinger anti-aircraft systems, 100 grenade launchers, 20 million rounds of small arms ammunition and grenade launchers and mortar rounds and an unspecified number of drones.
“We’re going to give Ukraine the arms to fight and defend themselves through all the difficult days ahead," Biden said.
For the first time in a public address to world leaders, the Ukraine president showed a packed auditorium of lawmakers a graphic video of the destruction and devastation his country has suffered in the war, along with heartbreaking scenes of civilian casualties.
“We need you right now,” Zelenskyy said. "I call on you to do more.”
Lawmakers gave him a standing ovation, before and after his short remarks, which Zelenskyy began in Ukrainian through an interpreter but then switched to English in a heartfelt appeal to help end the bloodshed.
“I see no sense in life if it cannot stop the deaths,” he said.
McConnell reminded his Senate colleagues that he urged the Biden Administration months ago to bolster support to those nations "in Russia's crosshairs."
"Last June, eight months before the Russian invasion began, I urged the President to provide serious, lethal support to Ukraine and other vulnerable states on the front lines of Putin's aggression," McConnell said. "In December, I specifically called on President Biden to deploy extra U.S. forces to reinforce NATO's eastern flank.
"I urged his Administration to expedite and expand shipments of lethal aid like anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons," the Senator added. "But as we know, a security assistance package for Ukraine sat at the White House for months before being approved. Once approved, efforts to transfer the weapons moved at the speed of bureaucracy. And the President waited until February to order U.S. personnel to the front lines. The Biden Administration had over a year to get this right."
Rogers agreed that we need to do more to help Ukraine.
"Last week, Congress approved $13.6 billion in emergency funding to support Ukraine's military and humanitarian aid, but it is clear that President Biden needs to do more to support Ukraine's air defense, and to unequivocally display America's power as a peace broker and defender of democracy," the U.S. Representative from Somerset said.
Nearing the three-week mark in an ever-escalating war, Zelenskyy has used the global stage to implore allied leaders to help stop the Russian invasion of his country. The young actor-turned-president often draws from history, giving weight to what have become powerful appearances.
Biden has stopped short of providing a no-fly zone or the transfer of military jets from neighboring Poland as the U.S. seeks to avoid a direct confrontation with nuclear-armed Russia.
The White House has been weighing giving Ukraine access to U.S.-made Switchblade drones that can fly and strike Russian targets, according to a separate person familiar with the matter who was not authorized to speak publicly. It was not immediately clear if the new drones that Biden said would be delivered to Ukraine include the Switchblades.
Zelenskyy has emerged as a heroic figure at the center of what many view as the biggest security threat to Europe since World War II. Almost 3 million refugees have fled Ukraine, the fastest exodus in modern times.
McConnell said it was high time that Biden stepped in and forcefully helped Ukraine, while also bolstering our own's national defense.
"If President Biden wants the United States to lead our allies by example and keep pace with adversaries like Russia and China, the place to start is with robust investments in our own defense capabilities. The coming year's appropriations process is an opportunity to finally show we're serious," McConnell said. "Vladimir Putin has proven to the world that he is willing to stoop low in pursuit of power. And he has shown us exactly how he responds to weakness.
"We cannot afford to stay behind the curve. America must lead, and lead with strength," McConnell added. "A few minutes ago President Zelenskyy reminded us that the United States is the leader of the free world. So it's time we acted like it."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.