President Joe Biden announced Wednesday an additional $800 million in military aid will be sent to Ukraine, just hours after President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s address to Congress, a speech he called “convincing.”
Biden said the U.S. is adding to its assistance to help “fend off Russia’s assault.”
“America is leading this effort, together with our allies and partners, providing enormous levels of security and humanitarian assistance that we’re adding to today and we’re going to continue to do more than days weeks ahead,” he said, adding the fight is “about the right of people to determine their own future, about making sure Ukraine never will be a victory for Putin, no matter what advances he makes on the battlefield.”
Biden, speaking for just over seven minutes, said the war in Ukraine is “a struggle that pits the appetites of an autocrat against humankind’s desire to be free.”
Biden emphasized the strength of the new military assistance, anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons. The supply includes traditional weapons ranging from guns to radar, and adds up to $1 billion “just this week,” Biden said.
He added: “More will be coming.’
Earlier Wednesday, Zelenskyy gave an impassioned address to an overwhelmingly supportive U.S. Congress, pleading for more military support, a “no-fly” zone over his country and even tougher sanctions for Russia.
Zelenskyy drew parallels to horrific moments in American history to explain his country’s plight and called on the U.S. to ramp up its aid to Ukraine in a virtual address to Congress, three weeks into his nation’s fierce struggle to repel invading Russian troops.
“Right now, the destiny of our country is being decided, the destiny of our people,” said Zelenskyy, who drew a standing ovation from Congress at the start of his speech from Kyiv. “Whether Ukrainians will be free, whether they will be able to preserve their democracy.”
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Zelenskyy referenced Pearl Harbor and the Sept. 11 attacks to explain to members of Congress the situation his country faces now. This is Ukraine’s experience “every day, right now.”
In English at the end of his speech, he addressed President Joe Biden directly: “President Biden, you are the leader of your great nation. I wish you to be the leader of the world. Being the leader of the world means to be the leader of peace.”
He added, “I call on you to do more.”
►Zelenskyy signed a decree creating a daily, nationwide minute of silence for 9 a.m. to “remember the Ukrainians who gave their lives, all those who fought, all the military, civilians and children.”
►The 2015 Ukrainian satirical comedy series “Servant of the People,” which Zelenskyy starred in, is available on Netflix. Zelenskyy playing a teacher who unexpectedly becomes president after a video of him complaining about corruption goes viral.
►Zelenskyy, in a video address to his nation, suggested there was reason for optimism that negotiations might yield an agreement. He said that Russia’s demands were becoming “more realistic.” The sides were expected to speak again later Wednesday.
►The International Chess Federation suspended the national teams of Russia and Belarus from participation in official tournaments “until further notice.” Chess is extremely popular in Russia.
► Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law allowing foreign planes to be seized and used domestically, Russia’s Tass News Agency reported. Most foreign airlines have paused service to Russia due to the war and sanctions.
►At least 103 children have died and more than 100 others have been injured, said Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova.
In a speech aired on Russian TV, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that Russia’s so-called “special operation” in Ukraine is going according to plan, again declining to call it an invasion.
“The West thinks we will step back,” Putin said, according to a translation from Meduza, a Latvia-based media outlet. “The West does not understand Russia,” he declared.
Putin repeated a number of false claims about the invasion of Ukraine, including the conspiracy theory that Ukraine was developing “weapons of mass destruction” like nuclear and bioweapons. There is no evidence, though Russia watchers note the argument may be a reference to Putin’s continued anger over the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Putin said that in enacting sanctions, the West is trying to “cancel” Russia and that measures targeting Russia’s Central Bank showed that foreign currency reserves can be “stolen.”
Signaling an even greater crackdown on Russian civil liberties at home, Putin called for a purge of “traitors” by “patriots,” arguing that “such a natural and necessary self-purification of the society will only strengthen our country.”
— Matthew Brown
After listening to Zelenskyy’s speech, Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell said President Joe Biden needs to “step up his game.”
“Were not doing enough, quickly enough to help the Ukrainians. And I think comparing Zelenskyy (to Biden) is depressing. President Biden needs to step up his game – right now – before it’s too late.”
The Kentucky Republican said he agrees with the president on one point: the U.S. shouldn’t be creating a no-fly zone over Ukraine due to concerns that it could potentially escalate a direct confrontation with Russia.
— Ledyard King
South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham is planning to bring a resolution to the Senate floor Wednesday afternoon that would put pressure on the Biden administration to reverse course and accept Poland’s proposal to provide up to 28 Soviet-built MiG-29 fighter jets to the U.S. to give to Ukraine.
Zelenskyy has asked the U.S. for more air power and Graham believes there’s enough bipartisan support to pass the nonbinding resolution calling for the administration to deliver the planes and change the trajectory of the war.
“Control of the skies is the missing link,” Graham told reporters on Capitol Hill shortly after listening to Zelenskyy’s address to Congressional lawmakers. “It’s the biggest advantage the Russians have.”
— Ledyard King
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said his alliance’s main goal with the invasion of Ukraine is to keep it from escalating into “full-fledged war between NATO and Russia.”
Stoltenberg told CNN that he understands Zelenskyy’s desperation and pleas for help, noting that NATO has provided “significant support” to Ukraine.
“NATO’s core responsibility, main responsibility is to protect 1 billion people living 30 NATO allied countries,” he said, adding that the alliance has “implemented the biggest reinforcements on collective defense since the end of the Cold War” to prevent Russian attacks from spilling over Ukraine’s borders.
Stoltenberg declined to give specifics on what military aid is being sent to Ukraine beyond describing “advanced systems also to protect them in the air, air defense systems, drones and other means to also deal with attacks that are faced within the airspace.” He said he welcomed President Joe Biden’s announcement coming at midday Wednesday on increased military aid from the U.S.
— Katie Wadington
As Zelenskyy spoke to Congress, Kyiv residents huddled in homes and shelters amid a citywide curfew while Russian troops shelled neighborhoods, homes and businesses.
In central Kyiv, shrapnel from an artillery shell slammed into a 12-story apartment building, obliterating the top floor and igniting a fire, according to a statement and images released by the Kyiv emergency agency. The neighboring building was also damaged. The agency reported two victims, without elaborating.
Russian forces also have intensified fighting in Kyiv suburbs, notably around the town of Bucha in the northwest and a highway leading west, said Oleksiy Kuleba, head of the Kyiv region.
To the south, Russian forces also continued pounding beleaguered Mariupol, a seaport city of 430,000 that has faced three weeks of siege, leaving people struggling for essentials including food, water and heat. It has also has forced the digging of mass graves.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said Zelenskyy’s address to Congress differed from his past remarks in that it was “not a more desperate ask, but a more resolved ask.”
“Zelenskyy was very firm, very clear in what he needed,” Murkowski said. “And if his words were not enough, if you did not look at that video and feel that there is an obligation for not only the United States, but for countries of the world to come together in support for Ukraine, you had your eyes closed.”
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said the U.S. needs to do more, specifically mentioned MIG-29’s, anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems, and armed drones.
“There’s a powerful message that came out of that video,” Portman said. “For all that we’ve done, it’s not enough to protect innocent lives.”
“We need to do more and specifically we need to provide them the armaments they need at a minimum to be able to protect themselves,” he added.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, said he doesn’t think it’s wise for Congress and the Biden administration to broadcast disagreements over the best military support for Ukraine.
“I’m open to increasing our level of military commitment to Ukraine, I just don’t think it is wise policy for all of those debates to play out in public in the United States Congress,” Murphy said.
“This is a bit of a strange way to prosecute a war to have daily, open, public debates about exactly which weapons and exactly which planes we’re sending,” Murphy said. “Russia is not doing that, Russia is not having a public debate about how many planes they send in Ukraine and exactly what weapons systems they send in.”
– Dylan Wells
White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan held a call Wednesday with General Nikolay Patrushev, Secretary of the Russian Security Council, where the U.S. called on Russia to stop attacking Ukraine.
Sullivan told Patrushev the United States is committed to continue imposing costs to Russia, adding that if Russia was committed to diplomacy then Moscow should stop attacking Ukrainian cities and towns, according to a statement on the call from NSC spokesperson Emily Horne.
In the call, Sullivan also reiterated to Patrushev that the U.S. will support the defense of Ukraine’s sovereignty and will continue to reinforce NATO’s eastern flank, where the U.S. has increased troop presence in countries like Poland.
Sullivan also warned Patrushev that there will be consequences if Russia decides to use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine, Horne said in the statement.
– Rebecca Morin
The Council of Europe’s ministers has decided to exclude Russia as a member following its invasion of Ukraine. The council, focused on human rights and democracy, was founded after World War II and Russia joined in 1996, following the Soviet Union’s collapse.
A day after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the group began to assess Russia’s membership. On Tuesday, Russia informed the council it would be withdrawing and the ministers formally expelled Russia on Wednesday.
“As leaders of the Council of Europe we expressed on several occasions our firm condemnation of the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine,” the council said in a statement. “This unjustified and unprovoked aggression led to the decision of the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly to initiate the procedure of expulsion.”
– Katie Wadington
Russia’s invading troops are struggling with Ukrainian terrain, forcing them to remain on roads where Ukrainian forces have slowed their progress, according to British Defense Ministry assessment. The Russians have been reluctant to drive off-road in Ukraine, and Ukrainians have further stalled their advance by blowing up bridges, British defense attache Mick Smeath said in a statement Wednesday morning.
Russian warplanes have failed to control Ukrainian airspace, according to the British and U.S. military, further limiting the invaders’ ability to protect its ground forces.
“The tactics of the Ukrainian Armed Forces have adeptly exploited Russia’s lack of maneuver, frustrating the Russian advance and inflicting heavy losses on the invading forces,” Smeath said in the statement.
– Tom Vanden Brook
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for the creation of a “United for Peace” alliance of “responsible countries that have the strength and consciousness to stop conflict immediately.”
“We need to create new tools to respond quickly and stop the war the full scale Russian invasion of Ukraine,” he said.
Dubbing it “U-24,” Zelenskyy referenced 24 nations that are actively working with Ukraine to find a peaceful resolution to the crisis.
– Matthew Brown
Saying Russia is “flooded with our blood,” Zelenskyy called on U.S. companies to abandon their operations in Russia.
As he made his address to a joint session of Congress, the Ukrainian president asked for more U.S. sanctions against the Kremlin and to establish a no-fly zone in Ukraine.
“We propose that the United States sanctions all politicians in the Russian federation who remain in their offices and do not cut ties with those who are responsible for the aggression against Ukraine,” Zelenskyy said.
– Rick Rouan
Secretary of State Antony Blinken stressed that a diplomatic solution ending Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine will require “irreversible” moves on Moscow’s part should global backlash to the conflict end.
“We will want to make sure, (the Ukrainians) will want to make sure, that anything that’s done is in effect irreversible. That this can’t happen again,” Blinken said during an interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep.
Blinken left the door open to lifting crippling Western sanctions on Russia’s economy should the invasion end while cautioning that the moves are already making global business and finance hesitant of investing in Russia in the long term.
“If the war ends, Ukraine’s independence, territorial integrity, sovereignty are restored then many of the tools that we’re using to get to that result — of course, that’s the purpose of them, they’re not designed to be permanent,” Blinken said.
Blinken declined to say whether the U.S. is in active communication with the Kremlin over Putin’s invasion but said “there are always ways of communicating” should it be necessary.
— Matthew Brown
Last week, single mom Olga Kovalchuk was hunkered down in a Ukraine basement with her children in a basement while bombs and missiles rained over Cherkasy, a city of 278,000 on the Dnieper River.
This week, they are in a foreign land – San Diego – where Kovalchuk has no place to live, no relatives, no job. But her kids are safe.
Like more than 3 million other Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion, the 37-year-old says she is simultaneously looking back and ahead. In Ukraine, a career as an interpreter allowed Kovalchuk to work mostly from home, looking after the children. Now, the kids will need to find schools, learn English, adapt to a new culture.
“I was very angry. I didn’t want to leave. I’m a patriot,” she says, adding that she had to go “to save the lives of our children. Still, sometimes I feel shame because I left.” Read more here.
– Dennis Wagner
International students who had been studying at Ukraine’s Sumy State University have finally returned to their home countries after being trapped in the school’s six hostels for two weeks with little food and water as the war raged.
The students — from India, Nigeria, Turkey and South Africa, among other countries — eventually found their way home over the course of last week and weekend after many days of travel by bus, train and plane throughout Ukraine and across borders.
Students had turned to social media to plead for help, using the hashtag “SaveSumyStudents.” But with limited access to electricity, calling attention to their plight was also difficult.
“We never had a plan, and every method of communication was lost, I couldn’t communicate with my parents,” said Samuel Olaniyan, a fourth-year student who returned to Nigeria a few days ago. “It was very, very scary.” Read more here.
– Christine Fernando and Cady Stanton
Contributing: The Associated Press