President Volodymyr Zelensky received a lasting standing ovation as he was about to deliver a historic address before U.S. Congress late on Dec. 21. “It is too much for me,” he said with a smile before proceeding with his remarks. Zelensky spoke in English for roughly 25 minutes and reminded the American lawmakers that mere hours before his U.S. trip — the first overseas one since the full-scale invasion began on Feb. 24 — he was at the front line in Donetsk Oblast's Bakhmut.
The city remains the "hottest point" out of the entire 1,300-kilometer front line as Russian forces relentlessly try to break Ukraine's defenses.
"Every inch of that land is soaked in blood," Zelensky said. "But Ukrainian Donbas stands. Ukraine holds its lines and will never surrender." Zelensky added that Ukraine needs more Western support to win the war: "We have artillery, yes. Thank you. Is it enough? Honestly, not really to ensure that Bakhmut is not just a stronghold that holds back the Russian army but for the Russian Army to pull out completely. More cannons and shells are needed. Just like the battle of Saratoga, the fight for Bakhmut will change the trajectory of our war for independence and freedom."
Zelensky later presented Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, with a Ukrainian flag that Ukrainian soldiers had signed in besieged Bakhmut. Pelosi gave Zelensky an American flag that had flown over the Capitol earlier in the day.
Zelensky's tailored speech invoked some of America’s defining moments on the battlefield as he rallied to secure continued congressional support for Ukraine against the war with Russia, mentioning WWII’s Battle of the Bulge and the U.S. Revolutionary War.
“We Ukrainians will also go through our war of independence with dignity and success,” Zelensky said. “We'll celebrate Christmas. And even if there is no electricity, the light of our faith in ourselves will not be put out. If Russian missiles attack us, we'll do our best to protect ourselves. If they attack us with Iranian drones and our people have to go to bomb shelters on Christmas Eve, Ukrainians will still sit down at the holiday table and cheer up each other."
Zelensky added that Ukraine handles U.S. aid “in the most responsible way,” an apparent nod to growing concerns about weapons handling in Ukraine, long known to be riddled with corruption.
He reiterated the importance of allied support to Ukraine —now in its tenth month of a full-fledged war.
"Our two nations are allies in this battle. And next year will be our turning point; I know it. The point when Ukrainian courage and American resolve must guarantee the future of our common freedom, the freedom of people who stand for their values," he said as Congress awarded him another round of applause. He added that "Ukraine never asked the American soldiers to fight on our land instead of us."
"I assure you that Ukrainian soldiers can perfectly operate American tanks... and planes themselves," Zelensky said. This summer, the U.S. was exploring whether it can send US-made fighter jets to Ukraine, something the Ukrainian military has been requesting from allies for quite some time. No decision on providing Ukraine with modern combat aircraft has been made.
Zelensky reiterated that his speech was intended not only for lawmakers but for all Americans: "In all states, cities and communities, all those who value freedom and justice, who cherish it as strongly as we, Ukrainians, in all our cities in each and every family, I hope my words of respect and gratitude resonate in each American heart."
Below are some of the key quotes from the president's speech:
"Against all odds and scenarios and doom and gloom, Ukraine didn't fall. Ukraine is alive and kicking. And it gives me a good reason to share with you our first joint victory: we defeated Russia in the battle for the minds of the world. We have no fear, nor should anyone in the world have it, Ukrainians gained this victory, and it gives us courage which inspires the entire world. Americans gained this victory, and that's why you have succeeded in uniting the global community to protect freedom and international law. Europeans gained this victory and that's why Europe is stronger and more independent than ever. The Russian tyranny has lost control over us. And it will never influence our minds again."
"The Russians will stand a chance to be free only when they defeat the Kremlin in their minds. Yet the battle continues, and we have to defeat the Kremlin on the battlefield. This battle is not only for the territory, for this or another part of Europe. The battle is not only for life, freedom and security of Ukrainians or any other nation which Russia attempts to conquer. This struggle will define in what world our children and grandchildren will live, and then their children and grandchildren. It will define whether it will be a democracy for Americans and Ukrainians for all."
"This battle cannot be frozen or postponed. It cannot be ignored, hoping that the ocean or something else will provide protection. From the United States to China, from Europe to Latin America and from Africa to Australia the world is too interconnected and interdependent to allow someone to stay aside and at the same time feel safe when such a battle continues.
"If your Patriots stop the Russian terror against our cities, it will let Ukrainian patriots work to the full to defend our freedom. When Russia cannot reach our cities with their artillery, it tries to destroy them with missile attacks. more than that, Russia found an ally in this genocidal policy: Iran. It is just a matter of time when they will strike against your other allies, if we do not stop them now. We must do it."
"Your money is not charity. It is an investment in the global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way."
"Russia could stop its aggression if it wanted to, but you can speed up our victory. I know it. And it will prove to any potential aggressor that noone can succeed in breaking national borders."
"It would be naive to wait for steps toward peace from Russia, which enjoys being a terrorist state. Russians are still poisoned by the Kremlin: the restoration of international legal order is our joint task. We need peace, yes. Ukraine has already offered proposals which I just discussed with President (Joe) Biden our peace formula: ten points which should and must be implemented for our joint security to be guaranteed for decades ahead and a summit which can be held. I'm glad to stress that President Biden supported our peace initiative today."
"We don't have to know everyone's wish as we know that all of us, millions of Ukrainians, wish the same. Victory. Only victory."
Brad LaFoy contributed reporting for this story.
for an independent Ukraine