Ukrainian President Zelenskyy Addresses Congress: 'We Need You Right Now'

The wartime leader shared with American lawmakers a video that spliced together footage of his country before and after the ongoing Russian invasion

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy — whose country has been under brutal assault by Russia since late last month — remotely addressed the U.S. Congress on Wednesday.

"Today the Ukrainian people ... are fighting for the values of Europe and the world," the 44-year-old lawmaker said, citing tragedies in American history in his appeal for more help against Russia.

"We need you right now," Zelenskyy — wearing a green military-style shirt, which has become a trademark of his since the war started — said. "Remember Pearl Harbor, [the] terrible morning of December 1941 when your sky was black from the planes attacking you. Just remember. Remember Sept. 11 — a terrible day in 2001 when people tried to turn your cities ... into battlefields. When innocent people were attacked."

He continued: "Every night for three weeks now ... Russia has turned the Ukrainian sky into a source of death for thousands of people."

Elsewhere in his remarks, Zelenskyy urged other countries to do more when it comes to punishing Russia, which has so far been met with a number of crippling economic sanctions.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy
Zelenskyy addresses U.S. Congress. Drew Angerer/Getty

"Peace is more important than income," he said.

Also during his speech, Zelenskyy showed lawmakers a video that spiced together images of Ukraine in happier times, with footage of the country now — large, colorful buildings reduced to rubble and images of smiling children replaced by tears, blood and bombs as the words "this is a murder" were displayed across the screen.

Volodymyr Zelensky, President of Ukraine,
Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Guillaume Herbaut/Agence VU/Re

The footage ended with a renewed plea to "close the sky over Ukraine" and institute a no-fly zone — a move that NATO and the U.S. have resisted as it would involve direct combat with Russian forces and could risk broadening the conflict to more countries.

The White House has made clear that the U.S. is unwilling to tell Russia it cannot fly its planes over Ukraine, a move which the administration has called "escalatory," because it would require enforcement by the American military.

In closing his speech on Wednesday, Zelenskyy addressed President Joe Biden directly, calling on him to be "the leader of the world."

"Peace in your country doesn't depend any more only on you and your people. It depends on those next to you and those who are strong," Zelenskyy said.

He continued: "Being the leader of the world means to be the leader of peace. Thank you. Glory to Ukraine."

The speech was met with a standing ovation from lawmakers, just as Zelenskyy's other addresses have been. The actor-turned-president has repeatedly spoken with other leaders since his country was invaded on Feb. 24, seeking aid from the rest of the world.

Ukraine Invasion
People remove personal belongings from a burning house after being shelled in the city of Irpin, outside Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 4. ARIS MESSINIS/AFP via Getty

Russia's attack on Ukraine is the first major land conflict in Europe in decades.

Details of the fighting change by the day, but hundreds of civilians have already been reported dead or wounded, including children. Millions of Ukrainians have also fled, the United Nations says.

"You don't know where to go, where to run, who you have to call. This is just panic," Liliya Marynchak, a 45-year-old teacher in Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine, told PEOPLE of the moment her city was bombed — one of numerous accounts of bombardment by the Russians.

The invasion, ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin, has drawn condemnation around the world.

With NATO forces massing in the region around Ukraine, various countries have also pledged aid or military support to the resistance. Zelenskyy has in the past few weeks called for peace talks — so far unsuccessful — while also urging his country to fight back.

Putin insists Ukraine has historic ties to Russia and he is acting in the best security interests of his country. Zelenskyy vowed not to bend.

"Nobody is going to break us, we're strong, we're Ukrainians," he told the European Union in a speech in the early days of the fighting, adding, "Life will win over death. And light will win over darkness."

The Russian attack on Ukraine is an evolving story, with information changing quickly. Follow PEOPLE's complete coverage of the war here, including stories from citizens on the ground and ways to help.

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