Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivered a historic speech to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday night, urging the US to continue supporting Ukraine in the face of Moscow’s attacks.
The speech, which lasted about 23 minutes, was the first time a foreign leader had addressed Congress during a war since Winston Churchill in 1941 during World War II. The trip to Washington also marked the first time Zelensky has left Ukraine since Russia invaded in late February.
Here are five highlights from Zelenskiy’s speech:
Zelensky walked into a packed House of Representatives chamber Wednesday night, where lawmakers from both parties and chambers, Cabinet officials and the US ambassador to Ukraine had gathered to watch the president’s historic speech.
The hall erupted into a standing ovation, and Zelensky shook hands with a number of lawmakers as he walked down the aisle to the rostrum.
Applause continued even after Zelenskiy went to the microphone, stretching for about three minutes. At one point, while the audience was still clapping, Rep. Lauren Bobert (R-Caladoria), who has been critical of U.S. aid to Ukraine in the past, sat down.
Vice President Harris and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), both wearing blue suits during the joint session, greeted Zelensky when he arrived at the podium and shook his hand. It could be the last time two women preside over a joint session of Congress for some time — Pelosi will step down as Democratic leader at the end of the year.
Zelensky compared the war in Ukraine with the US struggle for independence
Throughout his speech, Zelenskiy pointed to moments in US history as a way to call for united American support in repelling a Russian attack, comparing the battles for US independence to Ukraine’s struggle for freedom.
“In order to make sure that Bakhmut was not just a stronghold holding back the Russian army, but for the Russian army to withdraw completely, more guns and shells are needed,” Zelensky said. “Like the Battle of Saratoga, the battle for Bakhmut will change the trajectory of our war for independence and freedom.”
“If your patriots stop the growth of terror against our cities, it will allow Ukrainian patriots to work at full strength to protect our freedom,” he added.
Elsewhere in his speech, Zelensky cited the Battle of the Bulge as an example, emphasizing Russia’s aggression.
“Russian tactics are primitive. They burn and destroy everything they see. Bandits were sent to the front line. Convicts were sent to war. They threw everything against us, like another tyranny that is in the Battle of the Bulge,” he said.
“Just like the brave American soldiers who held their ground and fought off Hitler’s forces on Christmas Day 1944, the brave Ukrainian soldiers are doing the same to Putin’s forces this Christmas,” he added.
This is not the first time that Zelensky has invoked historical events in American history to bolster his country. During a virtual address To Congress in March, he pointed to the attack on Pearl Harbor and the terrorist attacks of September 11.
The Zelensky comedian shines through
Zelensky, who was a comedian and actor before entering politics, showed moments of humor during his speech on Wednesday, drawing laughter from the audience.
“Your support is very important. Not just to survive such a battle, but to reach the tipping point to win the battlefield. We have artillery, yes. Thank you. We have. Is it enough? Honestly, not really,” he said to laughter.
Elsewhere in his speech, Zelensky spoke about the capabilities of the Ukrainian military when it comes to handling American weapons.
“Ukraine has never asked American soldiers to fight on our land instead of us. I assure you that the Ukrainian military is perfectly capable of controlling American tanks and planes themselves,” he said, causing laughter and cheers in the hall.
The speech came as Congress is on the verge of giving Ukraine an additional $45 billion in aid amid its ongoing conflict with Russia. The funding is included in the year-end spending bill that both chambers are considering this week.
Unity — but not complete
Signs of unity were seen and heard during Zelenskiy’s speech, with MPs from both parties and chambers coming together to stand ovation throughout the speech.
Some of the loudest cheers of the night came when Zelensky said that “Ukraine is holding its ground and will never surrender” and that his country was “alive and alive.”
The room also erupted into thunderous applause when the president ended his speech by wishing the crowd a “Merry Christmas and a happy, victorious New Year.”
When Zelensky finished his speech, shouts of “Glory to Ukraine” were heard in the hall.
And in a sign of bipartisanship, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) sat on the Democratic side of the room during Zelensky’s speech. She sat next to Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Virginia), who is on the special committee with Cheney on Jan. 6. Both lost re-election this year.
Lawmakers, however, were not united throughout the evening. Bobert and Republican Reps. Matt Gaetz (Fla.), Jim Jordan (Ohio) and Tim Burchett (Tennessee) received a standing ovation, while House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was not seen with Zelensky and other congressional leaders — Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) — when the group passed through Capitol Sculpture Hall.
Zelensky and Pelosi exchanged flags
In one of the most powerful moments of the night, Zelensky and Pelosi exchanged flags of their countries.
Zelensky said that he received the Ukrainian flag during his visit to Bakhmut on Tuesday, when he was coming with the army. They asked him to hand over the flag to Congress.
“When I was in Bakhmut yesterday, our heroes gave me a flag. Battle flag. The flag of those who protect Ukraine, Europe and the world at the cost of their lives. They ask me to bring this flag to you, to the US Congress, members of the House of Representatives and senators, whose decisions can save millions of people,” said Zelensky.
“Therefore, let these decisions be made. May this flag stay with you. Dear Sir, This flag is a symbol of our victory in this war. We stand, we fight and we will win, because we are unleashed – Ukraine, America and the whole free world,” he added.
Zelensky then unfurled the Ukrainian flag — in black handwriting on the yellow part — and handed it to Pelosi, who was sitting on the dais. The two kissed on the cheek. Zielensky then handed the other side to Harris, and the two women held it up for the audience to see.
Shortly after, Pelosi returned the favor by presenting Zelensky with a framed American flag that flew over the Capitol on Wednesday. Zelensky raised it above his head, and the hall burst into applause. Hanging the flag, he left the hall.