Ukraine's Zelensky renews call for no-fly zone, invokes 9/11 in address to US Congress

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WASHINGTON (AFP, REUTERS) - President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine made yet another impassioned appeal on Wednesday (March 16) for the United States and its allies to create a no-fly zone to protect his country from Russian air attacks.

“I have a dream, these words are known to each of you today I can say. I have a need, I need to protect our sky. I need your decision, your help,” he asked in a virtual speech to the US Congress.

“Is this a lot to ask for, to create a no-fly zone over Ukraine, to save people? Is this too much to ask,” pleaded Mr Zelensky. "(So that) Russia would not be able to terrorise our free cities."

Appearing by videolink from the besieged capital Kyiv, Mr Zelensky also compared the horror of Russia's war in his country, which began on Feb 24, to Pearl Harbour and the Sept 11, 2001, attacks.

"This is a terror that Europe has not seen, has not seen for 80 years," Mr Zelensky said.

"Remember Pearl Harbour, terrible morning of Dec 7, 1941, when your sky was black from the planes attacking you," he said, recalling the air raid that brought the US into World War II.

"Remember September the 11th, a terrible day in 2001, when evil tried to turn your cities, independent territories, in battlefields," he said. "Our country experiences the same every day."

He went on to urge the US Congress to provide more weapons to help his country fight off the Russian air strikes.

Mr Zelensky also played a video clip for US lawmakers, showing them the destruction caused by Russia’s invasion of his country.

As sombre music played in the background, the short video showed ruined buildings and injured civilians, including children, with the final frame showing the words “close the sky” in an appeal for a no-fly zone.

Addressing his US counterpart, Mr Zelensky told President Joe Biden that being the leader of the free world also means being “the leader of peace”.

Mr Zelensky said this war is not just about his country but also about “the values of Europe and the world”.

“I am addressing President Biden. You are the leader of the nation, of your great nation. I wish you to be the leader of the world. Being the leader of the world means to be the leader of peace,” Mr Zelensky said, switching to English for the final passage of his speech.

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Ahead of his address, the US Congress gave Mr Zelensky a standing ovation.

“Slava Ukraina”, or "glory to Ukraine", House speaker Nancy Pelosi said, as lawmakers gathered in a joint session stood and clapped enthusiastically for him. 

Mr Zelensky’s virtual address came a day after he made a plea to Canada’s Parliament for more Western sanctions on Russia and the imposition of a no-fly zone over Ukraine.

Mr Biden on Tuesday signed into law US$13.6 billion (S$18.5 billion) in emergency aid to Ukraine to help it obtain more weaponry and for humanitarian assistance.

Mr Biden was expected to announce an additional US$800 million in security assistance to Ukraine later on Wednesday in remarks on US aid to the country, a White House official said.

Mr Zelensky has sought in recent weeks to shore up support for his country in various speeches to foreign audiences, also including the European Parliament and the British Parliament.

Support for Ukraine is a rare instance in which Republicans and Democrats have aligned in a sharply divided Congress, with some lawmakers in both parties urging Mr Biden to go further in helping Ukraine.

There is some bipartisan support in Congress for rushing combat aircraft to Ukraine. On Tuesday, the US Senate unanimously passed a resolution condemning Russian President Vladimir Putin as a war criminal.

The United Nations estimates that around three million people have fled Ukraine, mostly women and children, and are seeking safety in neighboring countries, mainly Poland.

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