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Biden pledges $800 million to Ukraine after Zelenskyy's plea for more U.S. aid

President Joe Biden signs a delegation of authority on Wednesday. From left, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Biden, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley.
Patrick Semansky
President Joe Biden signs a delegation of authority on Wednesday. From left, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Biden, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley.

Updated March 16, 2022 at 2:50 PM ET

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivered an impassioned plea to the U.S. Congress on Wednesday morning for additional support and for President Biden to spearhead the world's defense of Ukraine.

While Zelenskyy delivered the majority of his speech in Ukrainian with an English interpreter, he ended his remarks, which were delivered via video link, in English, addressing Biden directly.

"You are the leader of the nation, of your great nation," Zelenskyy said. "I wish you to be the leader of the world. Being the leader of the world means to be the leader of peace."

Biden responded just hours later, thanking Zelenskyy for his address and pledging to send an additional $800 million to Ukraine to boost security measures. This is in addition to $200 million in military aid to Ukraine Biden sent on Sunday.

Wednesday's aid package includes 800 anti-aircraft systems, 9,000 shoulder-mounted anti-armor missile systems to destroy tanks, 7,000 small arms, including guns and grenade launchers, 20 million rounds of ammunition, and drones, Biden said.

A senior U.S. military official said later that the materiel will include 100 drones. Asked if the drones were for surveillance or would be armed, the official said they are intended "to deliver a punch."

This comes just one day after Biden signed a bill to give $13.6 billion for emergency aid to Ukraine.

Biden did not mention Zelenskyy's request of imposing a no-fly zone over Ukraine — an ask the Ukrainian president had made to several NATO members over the past few weeks.

The White House argues that a no-fly zone could further escalate international tensions between NATO members and Russia.

Organizing shipments of aid has been reduced to hours

Ukraine has already received almost all of the $350 million authorized by Biden at the beginning of the Russian invasion three weeks ago, a senior U.S. military official said.

The government has already begun shipping the $200 million package announced by the White House last weekend, though the official did not specify when the additional aid announced Thursday would be sent.

Officials have said that while it used to take weeks or months to organize shipments to Ukraine, that has been reduced to days or hours to move weapons out the door since the war began.

Zelenskyy's address included a video with graphic war zone footage

In pleading for the U.S. to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine, Zelenskyy on Wednesday morning showed during his speech a video of the violence happening throughout his country; it featured graphic footage of injured and dead civilians, weeping and screaming people of all ages, hospital patients and destroyed buildings. It ended showing the words: "close the sky over Ukraine."

Members of Congress give Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky a standing ovation before he speaks in a virtual address to Congress in the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center Congressional Auditorium on Wednesday.
Sarahbeth Maney / AP
Members of Congress give Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy a standing ovation before he speaks in a virtual address to Congress in the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center Congressional Auditorium on Wednesday. In remarks introducing him, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said "Slava Ukraini" — which means "glory to Ukraine."

Zelenskyy did acknowledge the White House's hesitancy on imposing a no-fly zone and asked for additional aircraft military assistance instead.

"We offer an alternative," Zelensky said. "You know what kind of defense systems we need, S-300 and other similar systems, you know how much depends on the battlefield — on the ability to use aircraft, powerful, strong air aviation to protect our people, our freedom, our land."

Zelenskyy cited key moments in American history

Throughout the speech, Zelenskyy referred to pivotal moments in American history where the country was attacked, including Pearl Harbor and Sept. 11, 2001. He characterized the Sept. 11 attacks as events where "evil tried to turn your cities, independent territories, in[to] battlefields."

"In your great history, you have pages that would allow you to understand Ukrainians, understand us now," Zelenskyy said through an interpreter.

He also invoked similar rhetoric heard by the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in his "I Have a Dream" speech.

"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," Zelenskyy said. "I need your decision, your help, which means exactly the same, the same you feel when you hear the words 'I have a dream.' "

The speech comes as the Ukrainian death toll climbs and the Russian bombing, now in its third week, spreads farther west across Ukraine. According to the United Nations, more than 700 civilians have been killed in Ukraine since Russia's invasion.

"Now I'm almost 45 years old," Zelenskyy said in English. "Today my age stopped when the heart of more than 100 children stop beating. I see no sense in life if it cannot stop the deaths."

The most recent numbers from the U.N. indicate indicate 52 children have been confirmed dead as of March 15, though total counts can be "considerably higher." The U.N. notes that the Prosecutor General's Office of Ukraine reports that 103 children had been killed and more than 100 injured.

Zelenskyy proposed a new global alliance

Throughout the war, Russian forces have launched deadly attacks across the country, concentrating efforts in eastern and southern flanks of the country which are closer to the Russian border. Just Tuesday, Russian missiles struck two apartment buildings within the capital city of Kyiv.

Over the weekend, Russian attacks moved farther west, including within the city of Lviv, which sits close to Poland, a NATO ally.

In his speech Wednesday, Zelenskyy proposed a new global alliance between the United States and European allies.

"We propose to create an association, U24, 'United for Peace,' a union of responsible countries that have the strength and consciousness to stop conflict immediately," he said.

Zelenskyy explained the group would "provide all the necessary assistance in 24 hours. If necessary, even weapons, if necessary sanctions, humanitarian support, political support, finances, everything you need to keep the peace and quickly the save the world to save lives."

Zelenskyy's speech fired up U.S. lawmakers to act on Ukraine

Zelenskyy's video appearance was greeted with a standing ovation from the crowded room of U.S. lawmakers. After the speech, lawmakers from both parties rallied around the Ukrainian president's emotional appeal for support.

Calling Zelenskyy "one of the great wartime leaders," Colorado Democratic Rep. Jason Crow said the U.S. needs "to step up and do more."

Like many lawmakers, Crow opposes a no-fly zone over Ukraine. But he said the U.S. should give the Ukrainian military Russian MiiG planes, which he said could "help tip the scales."

Wyoming Republican Rep. Liz Cheney, meanwhile, said the U.S. should send more stinger missiles and Javelins, as well as Patriot missiles, and consider a no-fly zone for humanitarian purposes. She also said the U.S. should move more quickly to sanction the top Russian oligarchs that are still in President Putin's cabinet.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Greg Meeks, a Democrat, said many in the room were moved to tears during the video Zelenskky played.

"It looked like Nazi Germany to me," he said.

Meeks said when he and others recently visited the border between Poland and Ukraine some broke down in tears.

"There's no way you could look at the video and not feel it," Meeks said.

NPR's Deirdre Walsh contributed to this story.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Elena Moore is a production assistant for the NPR Politics Podcast. She also fills in as a reporter for the NewsDesk. Moore previously worked as a production assistant for Morning Edition. During the 2020 presidential campaign, she worked for the Washington Desk as an editorial assistant, doing both research and reporting. Before coming to NPR, Moore worked at NBC News. She is a graduate of The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and is originally and proudly from Brooklyn, N.Y.