OTTAWA, Ont. — President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the world is not doing enough to stop Russia’s rockets and bombs from devastating Ukraine as he renewed his plea Tuesday for allies to close his country’s skies.
In an 11-minute virtual address to Canada’s Parliament, Zelenskyy spoke passionately about the mounting civilian casualties in Ukraine, including 97 children.
“It’s their attempt to annihilate Ukrainian people and there is nothing else to it,” Zelenskyy said through an interpreter to hundreds of Canadian lawmakers who packed the House of Commons. “It’s an attempt to destroy everything that we as Ukrainians do. It’s an attempt to destroy our future, to destroy our nation, our character.”
Zelenskyy’s speech to Canadian MPs, which was streamed live on the internet, came a day before he is scheduled to address Congress. His emotional appeal is likely a preview of his demands to U.S. lawmakers.
Zelenskyy credited Canada and other allies for their sanctions on Russian officials and entities, weapons shipments and humanitarian assistance.
The help, however, has fallen short of what the president wants more than anything — the enforcement of a no-fly zone in the skies above Ukraine.
“Close the airspace, please stop the bombing — how many more cruise missiles have to fall on our cities until you make this happen?” Zelenskyy said. “When we talk with our partners … they say please hold on a little longer.”
Closing Ukraine’s airspace has been a non-starter for Canada, the U.S. and other NATO members. They’ve cited deep concern that enforcement of a no-fly zone would put the alliance in a direct conflict with Russia and likely lead to a wider war.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters later Tuesday that the U.S. has a responsibility to assess the impact of any actions on America’s own national security.
“A no-fly zone is escalatory and could prompt a war with Russia, a major nuclear power,” Psaki said when asked about the demands made by Zelenskyy in his speech to Canadians.
Zelenskyy, who was seated behind a desk with a Ukrainian flag to his right, received a standing ovation from the House of Commons, which was at capacity for the first time since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic two years ago.
Several times during his remarks, Zelenskyy got personal with Trudeau. He asked “Justin” to imagine what it would be like for his children to hear the explosions in Ukraine.
“We’ve been friends … Justin. But also I would like you to understand, and I would like you to feel this, what we feel every day,” Zelenskyy said at another point.
The president also urged Canada’s huge Ukrainian diaspora — one of the world’s largest at 1.4 million people — to offer their “practical support” to the country.
“This is a historical moment and we need your support — your practical support,” said Zelenskyy, who stopped short of specifying what he was asking for. “We hope that with your practical steps you will show that you are part of more than Ukrainian history. Please remember, this is a practical, modern day history of Ukraine. We want to live, we want to have peace.”
Zelenskyy has made public calls for foreigners to join Ukraine’s international legion to help defend the country from the Russian invasion. The National Post recently reported that so many fighters — around 550 people — have traveled from Canada to Ukraine that they now have their own battalion.
The House of Commons gave Zelenskyy a lengthy standing ovation at the end of his speech — and shouts of “Slava Ukraini!” — or “Glory to Ukraine” — echoed in the building.
Before the address, Prime Minister Jusin Trudeau told Zelenskyy that in defending the right of Ukrainians to choose their own future he’s also defending the values that “form the pillars of all free, democratic countries.”
“Volodymyr, in the years I’ve known you, I’ve always thought of you as a champion of democracy,” Trudeau said. “And now, democracies around the world are lucky to have you as our champion. Your courage, and the courage of your people, inspires all of us.”
Trudeau has had multiple conversations with Zelenskyy since Russian forces launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.
A senior Canadian insider told POLITICO recently that top Canadian officials, including Trudeau, have been engaged in a “constant flow of phone calls and texts back and forth” with Zelenskyy, his chief of staff, people in his office and Ukraine’s prime minister.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly and Defense Minister Anita Anand have all been part of the regular exchanges.
“There are really strong relationships there,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not permitted to publicly discuss the conversations.
In response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s assault, Canada has shipped weapons and ammunition, including anti-tank systems, to Ukraine and committed to a greater military presence on NATO’s eastern flank.
The Trudeau government has also provided loans to Ukraine, humanitarian aid and taken steps to ease immigration channels for Ukrainians.
Canada has also sanctioned 500 individuals and entities from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus — including banks, military entities, oligarchs and Putin himself.
Earlier Tuesday, Joly announced a new volley of sanctions against 15 senior Russian officials, whom Canada accused of “enabling and supporting” Putin’s invasion.
The Russian government slapped measures of its own Tuesday on around 300 Canadian lawmakers, including Trudeau, Joly and Anand. The Kremlin also targeted several officials with Ukrainian Canadian Congress.
“Every Russophobe attack, whether it be attacks on Russian diplomatic missions, the closure of airspace, or Ottawa’s virtual severance of bilateral economic ties — to the detriment of Canadian interests — is bound to receive a vigorous and not necessarily symmetrical response,” Russia’s foreign affairs ministry said in a statement released alongside the “black list.”
On Wednesday, NATO’s defense ministers, including Anand, will meet in Brussels. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said this week’s meetings will mark the start of an urgent rethink of the military alliance’s long-term strategy.
In his speech, Zelenskyy pleaded for more help — and quickly.
“Unfortunately, they did not bring the end to the war,” he said of all the military and humanitarian support so far. “You all need to do more to stop Russia, to protect Ukraine and, by doing that, to protect Europe from [the] Russian threat.”
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