Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Wednesday that “against all odds” Ukraine still stands, as he paid a defiant wartime visit to Washington to thank U.S. leaders and “ordinary Americans” for their support in fighting off Russia's invasion and pledged there would be “no compromises" in trying to bring an end to the war. President Joe Biden and Congress responded with billions in new assistance and a pledge to help Ukraine pursue a “just peace.”
Zelenskyy received a thunderous ovation from legislators during an address at the U.S. Capitol, declaring that Ukraine “will never surrender" and warning that the stakes of the conflict were greater than just the fate of his nation — that democracy worldwide is being tested.
“This battle cannot be ignored, hoping that the ocean or something else will provide protection," he said, speaking in English for what he had billed as a "speech to Americans.”.
Earlier Wednesday, Biden welcomed Zelenskyy to the Oval Office, saying the U.S. and Ukraine would continue to project a “united defense” as Russia wages a “brutal assault on Ukraine's right to exist as a nation.” Zelenskyy, on his first known trip outside his country since Russia invaded in February, said he wanted to visit earlier and his visit now showed the “situation is under control, because of your support.”
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.
The highly sensitive trip was taking place after 10 months of a brutal war that has seen tens of thousands of casualties on both sides and devastation for Ukrainian civilians. Zelenskyy's visit was meant to reinvigorate support for his country in the U.S. and around the world, amid concerns that allies are growing weary of the costly war and its disruption to global food and energy supplies.
Just before his arrival, the U.S. announced a $1.8 billion military aid package for Ukraine, including for the first time Patriot surface-to-air missiles, and Congress planned to vote on a spending package that includes about $45 billion in emergency assistance to Ukraine.
Russia, Biden said, is “trying to use winter as a weapon, but Ukrainian people continue to inspire the world." Later, in a joint news conference, he said Russian President Vladimir Putin has “no intention of stopping this cruel war.”
The two leaders appeared to share a warm rapport, laughing at each others' comments and patting each other on the back throughout the visit, though Zelenskyy made clear he will continue to press Biden and other Western leaders for ever more support.
He said that after the Patriot system was up and running, “we will send another signal to President Biden that we would like to get more Patriots."
“We are in the war," Zelenskyy added with a smile, as Biden chuckled at the direct request. “I'm sorry. I'm really sorry."
Biden said it is “important for the American people, and for the world, to hear directly from you, Mr. President, about Ukraine's fight, and the need to continue to stand together through 2023."
Zelenskyy headed abroad after making a daring and dangerous trip Tuesday to what he called the hottest spot on the 1,300-kilometer (800-mile) front line of the war, 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.