As Russia's invasion of Ukraine stretches into its third week, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivered a virtual address to a joint session of Congress where he implored lawmakers for more aid in his country's battle against Vladimir Putin. 

What You Need To Know

  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivered a virtual address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday

  • The speech came one day after President Joe Biden signed into law a $1.5 trillion government funding spending bill, which includes $13.6 billion for Ukraine

  • President Biden delivered an address after Zelenskyy later Wednesday, where he announced an additional $800 million in aid for Ukraine

  • Watch Zelenskyy's full speech to Congress in the video player above

Zelenskyy, who was greeted with a standing ovation when he appeared on-screen, began his address by saying: “I'm proud to greet you from Ukraine from our capital city of Kyiv that is under missile and airstrikes from the Russian troops every day, but it doesn't give up. And we have not even thought about it for a second.”

During his address, Zelenskyy again implored the United States and its allies to implement a no-fly zone over Ukraine, but acknowledged the U.S. has been unwilling to do so for fear of igniting an all-out war with Russia. 

“We are asking for a reply for an answer to this terror from the whole world. Is this a lot to ask for to create a no-fly zone over Ukraine to save people,” he said. “Is this too much to ask? A humanitarian no-fly zone, something that Ukraine it that Russia would not be able to terrorize our free cities.” 

It was a similar request to one Zelenskyy made to Canada’s parliament on Tuesday, where he also asked for the nation to establish a no-fly zone over Ukraine, but did not mention a request for additional aircraft. 

"Please close the sky. Close the airspace. Please stop the bombing,” he pleaded Tuesday. “How many more cruise missiles have to fall on our cities until you make this happen?”

"We are not asking for much," Zelenskyy added. "We're asking for justice, for real support, which will help us to prevail, to defend, to save lives.”

Should the U.S. and its allies remain unwilling to authorize a no-fly zone, Zelenskyy requested additional military equipment in the form of fighter jets. He also implored the Biden administration to issue “more new packages of sanctions [...] every week until the Russian military machine stops.” 

Those sanctions, Zelenskyy said, should be aimed at all Russian officials who have not yet cut ties with the state. He also asked lawmakers to pressure businesses in their districts to stop all deals with Russia to ensure the country does not “receive a single penny that they could use to destroy people in Ukraine.” 

Zelenskyy on Wednesday also implored world powers to “move on and do more” to aid Ukraine, going on to play an emotional video of the devastation within his country. Scenes showed millions of individuals fleeing the country, hospital and rescue workers working furiously to save babies and children and bodies of the deceased being thrown into mass graves. 

A message written in English played over the screen: “Close the skies to Ukraine.” 

For the vast majority of his address, Zelenskyy spoke in Ukrainian with the help of a translator. But following the video, the 44-year-old spoke to lawmakers directly in English.

“People are defending not only Ukraine, we are fighting for the values of Europe and the world,” Zelenskyy said in part, adding: “That's why today the American people are helping not just Ukraine, but Europe and the world to keep the planet alive.” 

While thanking President Joe Biden for his allyship to Ukraine, Zelenskyy continued to ask for more assistance, saying to Biden: “Being the leader of the world means to be the leader of peace.”

Over the course of his address, Zelenskyy evoked a number of both American tragedies and heroes, mentioning Pearl Harbor and the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. 

“Americans – in your great history, you have pages that will allow you to understand Ukraine and understand us when we need you right now,” he said. “The destiny of our country is being decided. The destiny of our people, whether Ukrainians will be free, whether they will be able to preserve their democracy.”

The requests come amid renewed hope for diplomacy, with Zelenskyy saying Russia’s demands for ending the war are becoming “more realistic” and negotiators on both sides set to hold talks for a third day in a row — despite escalated fighting near the country’s capital of Kyiv.

“Efforts are still needed, patience is needed,” Zelenskyy said in an earlier address to the people of Ukraine. “Any war ends with an agreement.”

According to the United Nations, more than 3 million people have fled Ukraine in the worst refugee crisis since World War II, and at least 691 civilians have been killed — though the actual death toll is believed to be much higher.

"The Congress, our country and the world are in awe of the people of Ukraine, who have shown extraordinary courage, resilience and determination in the face of Russia’s unprovoked, vicious, and illegal war," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., wrote in a letter to members of Congress earlier this week. "As war rages on in Ukraine, it is with great respect and admiration for the Ukrainian people that we invite all Members of the House and Senate to attend a Virtual Address to the United States Congress delivered by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine."

"The Congress remains unwavering in our commitment to supporting Ukraine as they face Putin’s cruel and diabolical aggression, and to passing legislation to cripple and isolate the Russian economy as well as deliver humanitarian, security and economic assistance to Ukraine," the leaders added. "We look forward to the privilege of welcoming President Zelenskyy’s address to the House and Senate and to convey our support to the people of Ukraine as they bravely defend democracy."

Zelenskyy's speech also came one day after President Joe Biden signed into law a $1.5 trillion spending and government funding bill, which includes $13.6 billion in humanitarian and military assistance for Ukraine. 

“Putin’s aggression against Ukraine has united people all across America, united our two parties in Congress, and united freedom-loving world,” Biden said at the bill signing Tuesday. “And it’s an act with urgency and resolve that we’re doing right now that you’ve provided me the ability to do.”

“We’ve already committed more than 1 billion 200 million dollars in security assistance to the people of Ukraine just over the past year,” Biden said after thanking Congressional leadership for their swift action on the bill. “We’ve been providing anti-armor — taking out tanks, anti-air capabilities — directly to the Ukrainian forces. And we’re also facilitating significant shipments of security assistance from our Allied partners to Ukraine.”

“With this new security funding and the drawdown authorities in this bill, we’re moving urgently to further augment the support to the brave people of Ukraine as they defend their country,” Biden added. “And I’ll have much more to say about this tomorrow, about exactly what we’re doing in Ukraine.”

Biden will deliver a speech of his own following Zelenskyy’s address, where he is expected to announce an additional $800 million in aid to Ukraine, including funding for anti-armor and anti-aircraft weapons, according to a White House official. 

The Biden administration is unlikely to approve a no-fly zone, and instead is looking to send Ukraine “more of what’s been working well,” according to an administration official.

Even though Zelenskyy and Biden speak almost daily by phone, the Ukrainian president has found a potentially more receptive audience in Congress.

This won’t be the first time he has appealed directly to members of the House and Senate, who have remained remarkably unified in their support of Ukraine with some feeling they have made a commitment to do as much as they can in the fight against Russia. Nearly two weeks ago, Zelenskyy delivered a desperate plea to some 300 lawmakers and staff on a private call that if they could not enforce a no-fly zone, at least send more planes.

An address to Congress by a foreign leader or dignitary is a somewhat rare event. According to the House of Representatives' website, such addresses are typically held "for Congress to hear an address from an important figure — generally a visiting foreign leader." The most recent address from a foreign leader was delivered in 2019 by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, where he stressed the importance of the alliance and unity between North America and Europe. 

Former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko addressed a joint session of Congress in 2014.

Watch Zelenskyy's full speech to Congress in the video player above

Spectrum News' Austin Landis and The Associated Press contributed to this report.