Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivered a historic speech before a joint meeting of Congress on Wednesday night, pleading with the U.S. to continue its support of Ukraine in the face of Moscow’s attacks.
The address, which spanned roughly 23 minutes, marked the first time a foreign leader addressed Congress during wartime since Winston Churchill did so in 1941 during World War II. The trip to Washington was also the first known time Zelensky has left Ukraine since Russia invaded in late February.
Here are the five biggest moments from Zelensky’s speech:
A packed entrance
Zelensky entered a packed House chamber Wednesday night, with lawmakers from both parties and chambers, Cabinet officials, and the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine coming together to view the president’s historic speech.
The chamber erupted in a standing ovation, and Zelensky shook hands with a number of lawmakers while walking down the aisle toward the dais.
The applause continued well after Zelensky arrived at the microphone, stretching for roughly three minutes. At one point, when attendees were still clapping, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) — who has been critical of U.S. aid to Ukraine in the past — sat down.
Vice President Harris and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), both of whom wore blue suits while presiding over the chamber during the joint meeting, greeted Zelensky when he arrived at the dais and shook his hand. It could be the last time two women preside over a joint meeting of Congress for a while — Pelosi set to step down from her post as Democratic leader at the end of the year.
Zelensky likens Ukraine’s war to U.S. fight for independence
Throughout his speech Zelensky pointed to moments in U.S. history as a way to call for united American support in fending off Russia’s assault, comparing the battles fought for U.S. independence to Ukraine’s fight for freedom.
“To ensure Bakhmut is not just a stronghold that holds back the Russian army but for the Russian army to completely pull out, more cannons and shells are needed,” Zelensky said. “Just like the Battle of Saratoga, the fight for Bakhmut will change the trajectory of our war for independence and for freedom.”
“If your patriots stop the rise in terror against our cities, it will let Ukrainian patriots work to the full to defend our freedom,” he added.
At another point in his speech, Zelensky cited the Battle of the Bulge when underscoring Russia’s aggression.
“The Russian tactic is primitive. They burn down and destroy everything they see. They sent thugs to the front lines. They sent convicts to the war. They threw everything against us, similar to the other tyranny, which is in the Battle of the Bulge,” he said.
“Just like the brave American soldiers which held their lines and fought back Hitler’s forces during the Christmas of 1944, brave Ukrainian soldiers are doing the same to Putin’s forces this Christmas,” he added.
It is not the first time Zelensky has cited historical events in American history to round up support for his country. During a virtual address to Congress in March, he pointed to the attack on Pearl Harbor and the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Zelensky the comedian shines through
Zelensky, who before entering politics was a comedian and actor, showed moments of humor during Wednesday’s address, eliciting chuckles in the chamber.
“Your support is crucial. Not just to stand in such fight but to get to the turning point to win on the battlefield. We have artillery, yes. Thank you. We have it. Is it enough? Honestly, not really,” he said, evoking laughs.
At another point in his speech, Zelensky spoke to the abilities of Ukrainian soldiers when it comes to operating American weaponry.
“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,” he said, leading to laughs and claps in the chamber.
The speech comes as Congress is on the brink of sending Ukraine an additional $45 billion in assistance amid its ongoing conflict with Russia. The funding is included in the end-of-the-year spending measure that both chambers are considering this week.
Unity — but not completely
Signs of unity were seen and heard during Zelensky’s speech, with lawmakers of both parties and chambers coming together for a number of standing ovations throughout the address.
Some of the largest cheers of the night came when Zelensky said that “Ukraine holds its lines and will never surrender” and that his country “is alive and kicking.”
The chamber also erupted in a rush of applause when the president capped off his speech, wishing the crowd “merry Christmas and happy victorious new year.”
As Zelensky wrapped up his speech, shouts of “Slava Ukraini,” which means “Glory to Ukraine,” could he heard in the chamber.
And in a sign of bipartisanship, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) sat on the Democratic side of the chamber for Zelensky’s speech. She was seated next to Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.), who along with Cheney serves on the Jan. 6 select committee. Both lost reelection this year.
Lawmakers were not, however, unified for the entire evening. Boebert and Republican Reps. Matt Gaetz (Fla.), Jim Jordan (Ohio) and Tim Burchett (Tenn.) sat out a number of standing ovations, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was not seen with Zelensky and other congressional leaders — Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — when the group walked through the Capitol’s Statuary Hall.
Zelensky, Pelosi exchange flags
In one of the most powerful moments of the night, Zelensky and Pelosi exchanged flags of their respective countries.
Zelensky said he received the Ukrainian flag during a visit to Bakhmut on Tuesday, when he visited with troops. They asked that he deliver the flag to Congress.
“When I was in Bakhmut yesterday, our heroes gave me the flag. The battle flag. The flag of those who defend Ukraine, Europe and the world at the cost of their lives. They ask me to bring this flag to you, to the U.S. Congress, to members of the House of Representatives and senators whose decisions can save millions of people,” Zelensky said.
“So let these decisions be taken. Let this flag stay with you. Ladies and gentlemen, this flag is a symbol of our victory in this war. We stand, we fight and we will win because we are united — Ukraine, America and the entire free world,” he added.
Zelensky then unfolded the Ukrainian flag — which had black handwriting on the yellow portion — and handed it to Pelosi, who was sitting on the dais. The two kissed on the cheek. Zelensky then handed the other side to Harris, and the two women held it up for the chamber to see.
Pelosi returned the favor shortly after, presenting Zelensky with a framed American flag that flew above the Capitol on Wednesday. Zelensky held it up over his head, and the chamber erupted in applause. He walked out of the chamber while displaying the flag.