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In a powerful and relatively brief video address to members of Congress Wednesday morning, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy continued to show the resolve and leadership that has inspired the world amid Russia’s horrific invasion of his country. His words should also inspire continued and strengthening action from the U.S. government.
This is a delicate situation with nothing short of World War III hanging in the balance. We’ve never claimed it to be simple or the path forward easy. All action should be taken with peace as the aim, which is why reports of progress in talks between Ukraine and Russia are hopeful. As Vladimir Putin escalates his brutal invasion, however, our country can and should continue to ratchet up its response without directly involving the U.S. military.
Zelenskyy, speaking mostly through a translator, made repeated references to American history in his address, including Martin Luther King Jr.’s “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 told Congress.
“Ladies and gentlemen, friends. Ukraine is grateful to the United States for its overwhelming support. For everything that your government and your people have done for us, for weapons and ammunition, for training, for finances, for leadership in the free world, which helps us to pressure the aggressor economically,” he continued. “I am grateful to President Biden for his personal involvement, for his sincere commitment to the defense of Ukraine and democracy all over the world. I am grateful to you for the resolution which recognizes all those who commit crimes against Ukraine, against the Ukrainian people, as war criminals. However now, it is true in the darkest time for our country, for the whole of Europe, I call on you to do more.”
Zelenskyy called for more sanctions on Russia and its officials. That makes sense. So does closing U.S. ports to Russian goods, a seemingly logical progression from the recent ban on Russian oil imports. Here in Maine, a Russian vessel carrying 8,000 tons of petroleum-derived product has already been turned away in Eastport.
Zelenskyy’s call for the creation of a “U-24” association of 24 “responsible countries that have the strength and consciousness to stop conflict immediately,” is an interesting idea that should be pursued further in the interest of producing and protecting peace.
His call for a no-fly zone, however, should continue to be a no-go. As many have already explained, that presents too great a risk of escalation and drawing the U.S. into direct conflict with Russian forces. Zelenskyy’s alternative of the U.S. providing Ukraine aircraft in addition to existing support like Javelin and Stinger missiles, on the other hand, merits further – and immediate – consideration.
“Right now, the destiny of our country is being decided. The destiny of our people, whether Ukrainians will be free, whether they will be able to preserve their democracy,” Zelenskyy told lawmakers. “Russia has attacked not just us, not just our land, not just our cities, it went on a brutal offensive against our values, basic human values. It threw tanks and planes against our freedom, against our right to live freely in our own choosing our own future, against our desire for happiness, against our national dreams.”
His speech and the emotional video montage it included of the Russian invasion also served as a reminder that yes, the Ukrainians, like all governments, have their own forms of propaganda in an ongoing war of information. We can recognize that their appeals are crafted to produce a specific emotional response and also recognize that Ukrainian myth-building is nothing compared to the fact-free ridiculousness of the Russian propaganda machine.
Zelenskyy’s case is based on evidence of what is really happening. Russia is trying to pretend the evidence doesn’t exist. And we have, in part, Ukrainian and international journalists to thank for documenting the reality on the ground. As we’ve seen in recent days, this is dangerous and even deadly work.
American documentary filmmaker Brent Renaud was shot and killed by Russian forces Sunday outside Kyiv, according to Ukrainian police. Fox News cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski, an Irish citizen, and Ukrainian journalist Oleksandra “Sasha” Kuvshynova were killed when their vehicle was struck by incoming fire near Kyiv on Monday. Fox journalist Benjamin Hall was injured in that attack.
CNN chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward noted how Zakrzewski was experienced and cautious in war zones.
“I think what it shows you is how random this has become. Heavy weaponry is being used, civilians are being targeted, it’s a total free-for-all,” Ward said. “And what you see with Pierre is a story that so many Ukraininas are feeling every single day. And so it just gives us even more of a window into the heartache behind every single death.”
The work done by these and other journalists means we don’t have to take Zelenskyy’s word for it when he describes the relentless, criminal attack on his country. We can see it with our own eyes from multiple sources.
Hours after the Ukrainian president’s address, President Joe Biden announced additional military aid for Ukraine, including more anti-aircraft systems and drones. Last week, Congress approved $14 billion for military and humanitarian aid as part of a larger government funding bill.
It is not enough to have supported Ukraine last week. That support must continue, and be adjusted to meet the needs of the Ukrainian people. That can be done deliberately with care to avoid direct U.S. military involvement, and with peace as the ultimate goal.