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Zelenskyy urges US to enforce no-fly zone in Ukraine amid Russian siege

The Ukrainian president addressed Congress by video Wednesday morning, imploring the U.S. to ramp up efforts to protect sovereign skies from Russian attacks.

WASHINGTON (CN) — In an impassioned virtual address to Congress, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged the United States to enforce a no-fly zone in Ukraine and supply fighter jets supporting the Ukrainian military as the country remains under siege by Russia.

"Right now, the destiny of our country is being decided, the destiny of our people, whether they will be able to preserve democracy," Zelenskyy said Wednesday morning.

The speech comes as Ukraine enters week 4 of the Russian military invasion that began on Feb. 24, with strikes targeting mass-transportation stations and residential areas, killing civilians.

Zelenskyy referenced attacks that brought heavy casualties in the United States as he urged the United States to ramp up its military support for Ukraine and invoke a no-fly zone to protect civilians — an ask that lawmakers on the Hill have previously been hesitant about backing.

"Remember Pearl Harbor, terrible morning of December 7, 1941, when your sky was black from the planes attacking you. Just remember it, remember September the 11th, a terrible day in 2001 when evil tried to turn U.S. cities, independent territories, into battlefields, when innocent people were attacked from air, just like nobody else expected it. You could not stop it. Our country experiences the same, every day, right now, at this moment, every night," Zelenskyy said.

Showing a video of Ukrainian cities under bombing and artillery shelling, Zelenskyy called on the U.S. to take stronger steps in the fight against Russia.

"Russian troops have already fired nearly 1,000 missiles at Ukraine to countless bombs. They use drones to kill us with precision. This is a terror that Europe has not seen for 80 years and we are asking for a reply or an answer to this terror from the whole world. Is that a lot to ask for, to create a no-fly zone over Ukraine to save people?" Zelenskyy asked Congress.

There has been bipartisan reluctance about supporting a no-fly zone, which would ban Russian military aircrafts from flying over Ukraine. The White House and lawmakers have warned that such a move would result in the U.S. shooting down Russian aircrafts and potentially draw the United States into the conflict.

Several Democrats and President Joe Biden have expressed similar concerns about supplying jets to Ukraine, a request Zelenskyy repeated while urging the U.S. to take action on if they do not impose a no-fly zone.

"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, essentially, your help, which means exactly the same, the same you feel when you hear the words 'I have a dream,'" Zelensky said in his address to lawmakers, referencing Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous 1963 speech on civil rights.

The White House has expressed worry that providing fighter jets could escalate the conflict, while several Republican lawmakers have pushed for such a move to round out Ukraine's military resources.

Last week, the Biden administration rejected a plan to provide Polish MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine by moving them through the United States.

"They need everything. But immediately what we should do is be creative to figure out ways to facilitate the transfer of these weapons in Ukraine immediately. We still have access to the country to be able to do that before it's too late, before more people are killed, before Kiev falls, before Kharkiv is reduced to rubble. We have to act quickly. It's not a matter of weeks. It's a matter of hours," Senator Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio, told reporters after the speech.

The Ukrainian president also urged the United States to ramp up sanctions, calling for penalties targeting all politicians in the Russian Federation who have not cut ties with the Kremlin and denounced the war on Ukraine. He additionally implored all U.S. companies to leave the Russian market.

"New packages of sanctions are needed constant every week until the Russian military machine stops," Zelensky said.

Biden did not comment in a speech later Wednesday on whether the administration would soften its opposition to a no-fly zone, but he did​ announce the U.S. would be transferring anti-aircraft systems, weapons and drones to Ukraine as part of the latest round of military aid.

"This new package on its own is going to provide unprecedented assistance to Ukraine and includes 800 anti-aircraft systems to make sure the Ukrainian military can continue to stop the planes and helicopters attacking their people and an defend Ukrainian airspace," Biden said.

The assistance comes as part of an $800 million military aid package to Ukraine that Biden signed into law Wednesday, making it a total of $1 billion in aid that the U.S. has sent to Ukraine just this week.

"We will keep up the pressure on Putin's crumbling economy, isolating him on the global stage. That's our goal, make Putin pay the price, weaken his position while strengthening the hand of Ukrainians on the battlefield, at the negotiating table. Together with our allies and partners, we're going to stay the course and we will do everything we can to push for an end this tragic, unnecessary war. This is a struggle that pits the appetites of an autocrat against humankind's desire to be free," Biden said in his public address.

After Congress passed $13.6 billion in emergency aid last week to provide humanitarian, economic and defense resources to Ukraine, the White House followed up over the weekend with $200 million in additional military aid. The U.S. meantime has levied a slew of sanctions against Russian banks, oligarchs, and Moscow's gas and oil industries.

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