Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has made a historic visit to the US to meet president Joe Biden in Washington. The meeting marks the first time President Zelensky is known to have left Ukraine since the beginning of the war with Russia. He also addressed the US Congress.
The trip itself was shrouded in mystery until only a few hours before the two leaders were due to meet. This was due to security concerns for Zelensky.
The Ukrainian leader met with Biden in the White House. He also gave him a special award from a Ukrainian captain.
The US has been the biggest supporter of Ukraine in terms of finance and equipment. During their meeting, Biden plegded to continue supporting the country, while Zelensky thanked the “ordinary people” of the US for their support.
The meeting in Washington came after Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russia was not to blame for the war. He said that the cause of the war “the result of the policy of third countries”.
What did Zelensky say in speech to Congress?
President Zelensky called the tens of billions of dollars in US military and economic assistance provided over the past year vital to Ukraine’s efforts to beat back Russia and appealed for even more in the future. In a speech to Congress, he said the money from the US is “not charity” but an “investment” in global security and democracy.
“Your money is not charity,” he sought to reassure both those in the room and those watching at home. “It’s an investment in the global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way.”
Just before his arrival, the US announced a new 1.8 billion dollar (£1.5 billion) military aid package, including for the first time Patriot surface-to-air missiles. And Congress planned to vote this week on a fresh spending package that includes about 45 billion in additional emergency assistance to Ukraine.
In his remarks to Congress, Zelensky harked back to US victories in the Battle of the Bulge, a turning point against Nazi Germany in the Second World War, and the Revolutionary War Battle of Saratoga, an American victory that helped draw France’s aid for US independence.
The Ukrainian leader predicted that next year would be a “turning point” in the conflict, “when Ukrainian courage and American resolve must guarantee the future of our common freedom — the freedom of people who stand for their values”.
Zelensky received thunderous applause from members of Congress and presented politicians with a Ukrainian flag autographed by front-line troops in Bakhmut, in Ukraine’s contested Donetsk province. The flag was displayed behind him on the rostrum by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Kamala Harris. Ms Pelosi, in turn, presented Zelensky with an American flag that had flown over the Capitol that day, and Zelensky pumped it up and down as he exited the chamber.
Declaring in his speech that Ukraine “will never surrender”, he warned that the stakes of the conflict were greater than just the fate of his nation — that democracy worldwide is being tested. “This battle cannot be ignored, hoping that the ocean or something else will provide protection,” he said, speaking in English for what he had billed as a “speech to Americans”.
What happened at Zelensky’s meeting with Joe Biden?
The news that Zelensky had left Ukraine to head to the US was made public at around 6am UK time. The president had already left Ukraine at the time it was announced, with his security team working to thwart any potential heightened threat against the president that came with him leaving the country.
At around 7pm UK time, Zelensky arrived at the White House to meet with Joe Biden. The Ukrainian leader was given a red carpet welcome to the iconic building.
The pair then moved into a meeting inside the Oval Office. At the beginning, Zelensky told the US leader that it was a “great honour” to visit Washington.
He then went on to award Joe Biden with a military honour, after a Ukrainian captain requested that he pass it onto a “very brave president”. In response, President Biden said that the honour bestowed on him was “undeserved, but much appreciated”.
Zelensky spent less than 10 hours in Washington before beginning the journey back to Ukraine.