(WASHINGTON) — Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made a dramatic visit to Washington Wednesday — his first known trip outside Ukraine since the Russian invasion began in February.
He met with President Joe Biden at the White House and later addressed Congress as lawmakers are set to vote on $45 billion more in emergency aid as part of a larger spending package. Biden on Wednesday also announced the U.S. will send Ukraine a Patriot anti-missile battery to defend against devastating Russian attacks.
In a virtual address to U.S. lawmakers back in March, Zelenskyy emotionally pleaded for more aggressive measures to help fight the war. Invoking key American tragedies, including Pearl Harbor and the Sept. 11 attacks, Zelenskyy told members at the time, “Just remember it … Our country experiences the same every day right now.”
Here is how the story developed:
Dec 21, 8:21 PM EST
Zelenskyy’s speech welcomed by numerous ovations
ABC News’ Will Steakin estimates that Zelenskyy, who has broad bipartisan support on the Hill, received 18 standing ovations during his speech.
Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the likely next House speaker, stood and clapped along with other lawmakers at nearly every interval.
Some other Republicans, including Reps. Jim Jordan, Andrew Clyde, Matt Gaetz and Lauren Boebert, stood for less than half of the ovations but were seen repeatedly clapping as well.
Gaetz appeared to be on his phone through the speech. At one point he showed Boebert something with a smile
Gaetz has been critical of future Ukrainian aid while McCarthy has called for Republicans to ensure accountability on how it is used.
-ABC News’ Adam Carlson
Dec 21, 8:43 PM EST
A gift for Congress: Ukrainian flag from soldiers
Closing his speech, Zelenskyy quoted late President Franklin D. Roosevelt and gifted a battle flag signed by soldiers to Congress as lawmakers debate additional funding to Ukraine.
“‘The American people, in their might, will win to absolute victory.’ The Ukrainian people will win too, absolutely,” he said to applause.
“I know that everything depends on us, on Ukrainian armed forces, yet so much depends on the world. So much in the world depends on you,” he told lawmakers. “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.”
He said soldiers gave him the flag to bring to U.S. lawmakers, “whose decisions can save millions of people.”
“So let this decision 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 said, handing the flag to Pelosi.
She then gifted Zelenskyy a folded and framed U.S. flag that had flown over the Capitol on Wednesday in honor of his visit. He held it aloft, to more applause, and then exited the chamber shortly afterward.
Dec 21, 8:31 PM EST
‘Your money is not charity,’ Zelenskyy tells lawmakers of aid
While continuing to ask for help with weapons and financial assistance, Zelenskyy reminded lawmakers that he has never asked for U.S. troops on the ground, which American leaders have long resisted.
“I believe in us and our alliance. 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 to some laughs and applause.
“Your money is not charity. It’s an investment in the global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way,” he said, also to applause and cheers.
The speech comes as lawmakers consider billions in additional aid to Ukraine as part of a larger government spending package, which is seeing resistance from some House Republicans and calls on the right for more oversight on funding to the war-torn country.
Dec 21, 8:23 PM EST
‘The light of our faith in ourselves will not be put out’
Zelenskyy said his country will persevere through the winter and celebrate Christmas. Alluding to Russian strikes on his country’s infrastructure such as its energy resources, he said, “Even if there is no electricity, the light of our faith in ourselves will not be put out.”
“If Russian missiles attack us, we’ll do our best to protect ourselves. If they attack us with Iranian drones and our people will have to go to bomb shelters on Christmas Eve, Ukrainians will still sit down at the holiday table and cheer up each other, and we don’t have to know everyone’s wish as we know that all of us, millions of Ukrainians, wish the same: Victory,” he said. “Only victory.”
He thanked President Biden, “both parties” of Congress and the American people for supporting Ukraine over the last 10 months.
Dec 21, 7:33 PM EST
Pelosi wears broach Zelenskyy gifted her
Presiding over the House chamber, Speaker Nancy Pelosi wore a blue suit with a broach — the “Order of Olga the Duchess of 3rd Degree,” a Ukrainian civil decoration given to her by Zelenskyy when she was in Kyiv, her office said.
Pelosi visited Ukraine in May, marking the first official congressional delegation since Russia invaded.
Dec 21, 7:34 PM EST
Color inside the chamber ahead of speech
Here is some early color ahead of Zelenskyy’s scheduled 7:30 p.m. remarks to a joint meeting of Congress:
The mood is good inside with members mingling. Early attendees included incoming House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., and Republican Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida and Lauren Boebert of Colorado.
Gaetz has been one of the most vocal critics in Congress of future Ukraine funding, vowing a few weeks ago not to support additional money.
Some members are wearing yellow scarves and yellow suit jackets — an apparent reference to solidarity with Ukraine.
Shortly ahead of Zelenskyy’s address, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi welcomed senators to the House chamber for the joint meeting, including Vice President Kamala Harris, president of the Senate.
Wyoming Republican Rep. Liz Cheney was seated on the Democrats’ side of the House chamber next to lawmakers she served with on the Jan. 6 committee.
-ABC News’ Will Steakin
Dec 21, 7:00 PM EST
Top congressional leaders meet behind closed doors with Zelenskyy
The big four — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy — met behind closed doors with Zelenskyy ahead of his address to Congress.
Zelenskyy was spotted walking through Statuary Hall outside the House chamber with Pelosi, Schumer and McConnell, but McCarthy, the likely incoming House speaker, was not with them for that walk.
McCarthy, also needing to win over conservatives to back his bid for speaker, has signaled he could oppose more funding to Ukraine, warning that Republicans will not write a “blank check” for aid when they soon assume the majority.
Some conservative House Republicans have made it clear they would oppose any additional funding even as Congress votes on a must-pass $1.7 trillion government funding bill this week that includes $45 billion in aid to Ukraine.
-ABC News’ Katherine Faulders and Lauren Peller
Dec 21, 5:48 PM EST
Biden defends sending Patriot missile defense system: ‘Not escalatory’
President Biden defended the decision to send a Patriot missile defense system to Ukraine and denied the move was escalatory.
“It’s a defensive system. It’s a defensive weapon system. It’s not escalatory, it’s defensive,” Biden said. “We’d love to not have them use it. Just stop the attacks,” he said, referring to Russia.
Zelenskyy delicately added that he may call on the U.S. to send another Patriot missile in the near future, prompting laughter.
“We’re working on it,” Biden said with a smile.
Zelenskyy said, “We are in war. I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. That is my appreciation.”
Dec 21, 5:35 PM EST
Training Ukrainian troops on Patriot system could take months, official says
The training of Ukrainian troops on the Patriot missile battery could take “several months,” according to a senior defense official who briefed reporters this afternoon.
“I can just say that the training will begin very soon,” the official said, noting the “Ukrainians will have to complete the training in order to be able to field the system and it’s the Ukrainians who are operating the system.”
The Patriot missile system and JDAM kits to convert “dumb bombs” to “smart bombs” are included in the latest round of military aid to Ukraine. Ukraine has been asking for the advanced air defense system since shortly after Russia’s invasion began.
The official would not provide any concrete timelines, telling reporters: “We also would obviously want to be really, really careful for operational security reasons to not you know, not be overly precise on a date, even once we have it.”
-ABC News’ Luis Martinez
Dec 21, 5:27 PM EST
Zelenskyy’s message to Americans: ‘We will win’
Zelenskyy was asked by a reporter what his message is to the American people ahead of his address to U.S. lawmakers later this evening.
“I think I will tell you very simple things which are very important for me,” Zelenskyy responded. “And I think so that we have the same values and the same understanding of the life, the sense of the life. My message: I wish you peace.”
“And I wish you to see your children alive and adult,” Zelenskyy continued. “And I wish you to see your children when they will go to universities, and to see their children. I think that is the main thing, what I can wish you.”
Zelenskyy said the U.S. and Ukraine are fighting for “common victory against this tyranny” and predicted, “We will win.”
“I really want win together,” he said, before slightly amending his words: “Not ‘want.’ Sorry. I’m sure.”
Dec 21, 5:21 PM EST
Zelenskyy confident of continued support ‘regardless of changes in the Congress’
At the top of their joint news conference, Zelenskyy again thanked Biden, Congress and the American people for providing defense and aide to Ukraine against Russia, which he called a “terrorist country.”
“This visit to the United States became really a historic one for our relations with the United States and the American leadership,” Zelenskyy said.
“I have good news returning home,” he continued, raising the new nearly $2 billion aid package. “This is a very important step to create a secure airspace for Ukraine, and that’s the only way we would be able to deprive the terrorist country and terror attack.”
Zelenskyy said “regardless of changes in the Congress,” he believes there will be support for Ukraine, showing his apparent knowledge of resistance from House Republicans.
“We need to survive this winter, we need to protect our people, and we need to be very specific in this area. This is a key humanitarian issue for us right now. This is the survival issue,” he said. “We are discussing sanctions and legal pressure on the terrorist country of Russia. Russia needs to be held accountable for everything it does against us, against our people, against Europe, and the whole free world.”
Dec 21, 5:10 PM EST
Biden tells Zelenskyy Ukraine ‘will never stand alone’
At a joint news conference in the White House East Room, Biden said it’s important for the world to hear directly from President Zelenskyy as his country stands up to the aggression of Russia’s “imperialist autocrats.”
“We should be clear about what Russia is doing,” Biden said. “It is purposely attacking Ukraine critical infrastructure, destroying the system to provide heat and light Ukrainian people during the coldest darkest part of the year. Russia is using winter as a weapon, Freezing people, starving people, cutting them off from one another.”
Biden criticized Vladimir Putin, who he said has “no plans” to pursue peace or bring an end to the war.
Biden told Zelenskyy “you will never stand alone” and that the U.S. and its partners are ready to provide necessary assistance.
“The American people know that if we stand by in the face of such blatant attacks, on liberty and democracy and the core principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, the world would surely face worse consequences,” Biden said, adding, “The American people are prepared to have us stand up to bullies, stand up for freedom.”
Dec 21, 4:21 PM EST
Biden, Zelenskyy to hold White House news conference as Congress weighs aid to Ukraine
Zelenskyy and Biden are scheduled to hold a joint news conference in the White House East Room at 4:30 p.m. before Zelenskyy travels to Capitol Hill to address lawmakers at 7:30 p.m.
The high-security trip to Washington comes as Biden announced another $2 billion package in security assistance for Ukraine, which includes a Patriot missile defense system Zelenskyy had been requesting.
The visit also comes as Congress weighs $45 billion in funding for Ukraine, which has met resistance from some House Republicans. Asked how much of the visit is about Biden sending a message them, the White House said it’s not about politics, despite the timing.
“This isn’t about sending a message to a particular political party,” said a senior administration official. “This is about sending a message to Putin and sending a message to the world that America will be there for Ukraine for as long as it takes.”
-ABC News Justin Gomez
Dec 21, 3:25 PM EST
McCarthy tells ABC News he’ll attend Zelenskyy’s address to Congress
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — who has previously signaled his reluctance to further back Ukrainian aid as the country fends off a Russian invasion — told ABC News he would attend the Ukrainian president’s address to Congress this evening.
“Well, by going to the Zelenskyy speech, we’d be listening to it,” he said in remarks to reporters.
“We’ll meet with him privately,” he added.
McCarthy oversees some conservative members of the House Republican caucus who have ardently opposed additional funding for Ukraine and has himself spoken out against providing a “blank check” for the county without an audit of how it’s spending the billions in U.S. aid.
Before his remarks, it was unclear if McCarthy would attend.
–ABC News’ Trish Turner
Dec 21, 3:13 PM EST
Zelenskyy presents Biden with Ukrainian soldier’s award
As they spoke at the White House, Zelenskyy presented Biden with an award given to a Ukrainian soldier. The soldier wanted the president to have it, Zelenskyy explained.
“He’s very brave,” Zelenskyy said of the soldier, who he said is a captain of an HIMARS battery — an advanced rocket system sent by the U.S. “And he said, ‘give it to a very brave president."”
Biden then asked for the solider’s name and if there was any way to contact him.
“Undeserved but much appreciated,” Biden said, adding he would give the captain a challenge coin.
Dec 21, 3:00 PM EST
Zelenskyy thanks Biden, ‘ordinary’ Americans for support
In front of a roaring fire inside the Oval Office and flanked by reporters, Zelenskyy thanked President Biden for the support of the United States, which Biden said now includes a Patriot missile defense system and precision bomb kits.
“Thank you so much. Mr. President. Great honor for me to be here, with your journalists. Thank you so much for the invitation,” Zelenskyy said. “I really wanted to come earlier, Mr. President knows, but I couldn’t do it because the situation was so difficult.”
Zelenskyy thanked Biden for his “big support and leadership,” as well as the “ordinary” American people for standing with Ukraine.
“Thanks from our ordinary people to your ordinary people — Americans — I really appreciate.” Zelenskyy said. “Thank you so much.”
Dec 21, 2:55 PM EST
Biden says US will support Ukraine in pursuing a ‘just peace’
Welcoming Zelenskyy back to the Oval Office, Biden said it was an honor to be meeting again amid the “brutal” war being waged by Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
“Hard to believe 300 days we’ve going through this, and Putin has waged a brutal assault on the Ukraine’s right to exist as a nation and the attack on innocent Ukrainian people for no reason other than to intimidate,” Biden said.
“And he’s escalated his assault on civilians after hitting schools, orphanages, hospitals, landmarks, it’s just — and he’s trying to use winter as a weapon. But the Ukrainian people continue to inspire the world. I mean that sincerely, not just inspire us but inspire the world with their courage and how they have chose resilience and resolve for their future,” Biden said.
Biden said Democrats and Republicans will make sure Ukraine has the economic, humanitarian and security assistance they need to keep fighting and will “support Ukraine in pursuing a just peace.”
“President Zelenskyy, the United States stands with the brave people of Ukraine, we stand with you, you’ve been a great leader,” he said as he turned it over to Zelenskyy to give remarks.
Dec 21, 2:09 PM EST
Biden greets Zelenskyy at the White House
President Biden and first lady Jill Biden greeted Zelenskyy on the South Lawn of the White House Wednesday afternoon just after 2 p.m. Zelenskyy, donning army green, shook hands with the Bidens after exiting the motorcade.
The South Portico, decorated with holiday wreaths, was also adorned with the American and Ukrainian flags.
“Mr. President, welcome back,” Biden said.
In a show of support, Biden was wearing a blue-and-yellow striped tie, the colors of the Ukrainian flag.
Dec 21, 1:34 PM EST
Zelenskyy arrives at Blair House
President Zelenskyy has arrived at Blair House, which now has a Ukrainian flag flying overhead. Blair House, located across the street from the White House, is the residence where foreign dignitaries often stay when visiting Washington.
Dec 21, 1:21 PM EST
McConnell says more Ukraine aid boosts ‘American interests’
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., made the case for more military aid for Ukraine on Wednesday as some in his party oppose sending more money to the nation.
“The reason that a big bipartisan majority of the American people and a big bipartisan majority in Congress support continuing to assist Ukraine is not primarily about inspiring speeches or desire to engage in philanthropy,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.
“The most basic reasons for continuing to help Ukraine degrade and defeat the Russian invaders are cold, hard, practical, American interests,” he continued. “Helping equip our friends in eastern Europe defeat this world is also a direct investment in reducing Putin’s future capabilities to menace America, threaten our allies and contest our core interests.”
But some in the GOP are questioning the amount of aid being sent to Ukraine, arguing the government should be investing that money domestically. “American taxpayers are literally paying to prop up many countries all over the world in foreign aid, but America is virtually crumbling before our eyes,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene argued in a series of tweets on Wednesday.
Other Republicans argue the need for more oversight of the funds being approved for Ukraine, stating they don’t want to write a “blank check” to Ukraine.
Dec 21, 1:02 PM EST
Zelenskyy continues to take risks for country
From the frontlines of the war in Ukraine to the political frontlines of Washington on Capitol Hill and the White House, Zelenskyy continues to take risks to defend Ukraine and show masterful skill at using language and symbolism to marshal international support.
“Remember Pearl Harbor. The morning of December 7, 1941, when your sky was black from the planes attacking you. Remember. Remember September 11. A terrible day in 2001 when people tried to turn your cities into battlefields. When innocent people were attacked from the air. No one expected it. You couldn’t stop it,” he said in his virtual speech to Congress in March.
“Our country experiences the same every day,” he said.
Zelenskyy made an unannounced visit to the front-line city of Bakhmut on Monday, where Ukrainian and Russian forces have fought a months-long battle. The comedian-turned-politician who was elected to lead Ukraine in 2019, was named Time’s person of the year earlier this month “for proving that courage can be as contagious as fear.”
Dec 21, 12:45 PM EST
Zelenskyy has landed in the US
A U.S. official confirms to ABC News that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has landed in the U.S.
–ABC News’ Sarah Kolinovsky
Dec 21, 12:27 PM EST
‘Significant’ security measures in place at Capitol
Zelenskyy’s trip to Capitol Hill will be similar to State of the Union preparations because of the high-level nature of the address. Security officials at the most senior levels of government are “very” concerned about the prospect of something happening tonight, domestically or abroad, one source told ABC News.
According to an email sent to staff at the Capitol and obtained by ABC News, security measures will be “significant.” The email says only staff and members will be allowed in the House wing past a certain time.
Another official said, “We are very cognizant that Russia has assets in this country and might try to do something. We know what is at stake.”
The source said the U.S. is aware that early on in the conflict the Russians apparently plotted to kill Zelenskyy. The official expressed concern that news of Zelensky’s visit broke so early about him coming to the United States. It would have been much better, he said, if our adversaries had less time, not more time, to think about doing something and to move assets and operatives around.
-ABC News Chief Justice Correspondent Pierre Thomas and Luke Barr
Dec 21, 12:19 PM EST
Secret Service leading security for Zelenskyy’s trip
Zelenskyy’s trip to Washington is being treated as a mini-state visit — a visit with extraordinary security implications, according to multiple sources. Hundreds of law enforcement and intelligence officials have been activated for this visit with the U.S. Secret Service tasked as the lead agency.
“From the moment he lands and walks down those stairs of his plane, he will have a Secret Service security detail,” one official tells ABC News. “He will have that detail until he gets on the plane to leave.”
Secret Service is also consulting with the Capitol Police, CIA, FBI and other intelligence agencies about the security environment. One source told ABC News every Capitol Police officer is on standby.
-ABC News’ Chief Justice Correspondent Pierre Thomas and Luke Barr
Dec 21, 11:50 AM EST
Schumer compares Zelenskyy to Winston Churchill
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., compared Zelenskyy to Winston Churchill during floor remarks on Wednesday.
“Where Winston Churchill stood generations ago, so, too, President Zelenskyy stands not just as a president but also as an ambassador to freedom itself,” Schumer said.
Churchill, prime minister of the United Kingdom during World War II, addressed U.S. lawmakers in a speech the day after Christmas in 1941 — just weeks after the Pearl Harbor attack.
“Sure I am, that this day, now, we are the masters of our fate,” Churchill told Congress. “That the task which has been set us is not above our strength. That its pangs and toils are not beyond our endurance. As long as we have faith in our cause, and an unconquerable willpower, salvation will not be denied us.”
Schumer said he will “happily join” Congress in welcoming Zelenskyy, and urged Republicans to attend the joint meeting.
“It is a high honor to welcome a foreign head of state to Congress, but it is nearly unheard of to hear from a leader who is fighting for his life fighting for his country’s survival and fighting to preserve the very idea of democracy,” Schumer said.
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