LIVE: Zelenskyy tells Congress that Ukraine will "never surrender" during a special joint meeting

Published December 21, 2022 at 11:56 AM EST
Members of Congress hold up a Ukrainian flag as President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky addresses a joint meeting of Congress in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol on December 21, 2022 in Washington, DC.
Chip Somodevilla
/
Getty Images North America
Members of Congress hold up a Ukrainian flag as President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky addresses a joint meeting of Congress in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol on December 21, 2022 in Washington, DC.

The Ukrainian president is meeting with his U.S. counterpart at the White House today and will address Congress in a special joint meeting at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Zelenskyy's visit is aimed at underscoring U.S. support as Russia's war drags on. It's his trip trip outside Ukraine since Russia launched its attack in February.

Here's what we're following:

How to keep up with the latest on Ukraine and U.S. politics

Posted December 21, 2022 at 9:50 PM EST

The blog is closing for the night, but NPR’s coverage of the war in Ukraine and the political implications for the U.S. continue. Here are a few ways to follow along:

🎧 Listen to the State of Ukraine podcast for everything you need to know about the Russian invasion.
🖊️Sign up for the NPR Politics Newsletter for the top stories and analysis from Washington.
➡️Stay up to date with the latest breaking news at NPR.org.

Thanks for joining us!

Analysis

A look at Zelenskyy's leadership style and how it's helped him garner global support

Posted December 21, 2022 at 9:38 PM EST

During NPR’s special live coverage following Zelenskyy’s address to Congress Wednesday night, NPR political correspondent Sue Davis and investigative correspondent Tim Mak discussed the president of Ukraine’s leadership style.

Mak, who is in the Ukrainian city of Odessa, said Zelenskyy's approach of finding ways to relate to those he seeks support from has helped gain continued support for Ukraine from world leaders and global organizations. In his address Wednesday, Zelenskyy compared Ukraine’s struggle to American troops' past conflicts.

“We heard mentions to the Battle of the Bulge and American efforts during that Christmas in 1944, the Battle of Saratoga — talking about things that Americans might relate to when it comes to American struggles for freedom and independence,” Mak said.

Zelenksyy also acknowledged that Ukraine wouldn’t be in the position it is today without aid from the United States and other nations who answered the call for help.

“Zelenksyy is an incredibly savvy political operator. To me it was very clear in his message that he is uniquely aware of the coming potential confrontations in Washington over the assistance to Ukraine,” Davis added.

She noted that the president told politicians in the room that their support was not charity.

Instead, Zelenskyy said, "It’s an investment in the global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way."

➡️ Read more about Zelenskyy and how the actor-turned-president found himself leading Ukraine during war.

Here's what life is like for a small town in Ukraine ravaged by the Russians

Posted December 21, 2022 at 9:00 PM EST
A painting by British street artist Banksy amidst destroyed buildings in Borodianka on Saturday. The image shows a young boy tossing a man to the floor. Both are in martial arts attire. The man is widely assumed to be Russian leader Vladimir Putin, a judo enthusiast.
Natalie Keyssar for NPR
A painting by British street artist Banksy amidst destroyed buildings in Borodianka on Saturday. The image shows a young boy tossing a man to the floor. Both are in martial arts attire. The man is widely assumed to be Russian leader Vladimir Putin, a judo enthusiast.

Approximately 10 months into Russia’s war in Ukraine, residents across the former Soviet nation are constantly working to overcome one obstacle after another.

NPR’s Greg Myre reports that the people in Borodianka are working to rebuild after the Russians destroyed their small town. The main street, lined with crumbling buildings, offers only a handful of shops open for business.

The regional government is led by Heorhiy Yerko, the de facto mayor of the town, who has been working out of a classroom at the high school since the main government building was badly damaged when the Russians attempted to seize the capital of Kyiv.

About 200 people were killed in the weeks following Vladimir Putin’s invasion late last February, when Russia’s military occupied the town. The population dropped from 14,000 to just over 1,000 at the time. Many of the townspeople came back, bumping those figures up to 9,000 more recently, despite the lack of resources.

Read more about what life is like on the ground in Ukraine here.

Ukrainians may be in the dark, but their loyalty to Zelenskyy remains steadfast

Posted December 21, 2022 at 8:50 PM EST

More than 300 days after the start of the war in Ukraine support for President Zelenskyy is unwavering, even as citizens face a decidedly brutal winter.

NPR’s Tim Mak reports Ukrainians are rallying around their leader even if they were not able to watch as he stood beside President Biden at the White House today and won’t be able to tune in to Zelenskyy’s address to a joint meeting of Congress.

“Many of them won’t be able to watch Zelenskyy’s speech to Congress, even if they wanted to,” Mak told All Things Considered.

That’s due to the Russian barrage of strikes on the electrical infrastructure across the country. The attacks have left millions of people without electricity and internet connections.

Mak says the public’s steadfast loyalty to Zelenskyy is inextricably linked to prowess of the military, which has successfully battled back Russian troops regaining full control of Kyiv as well as Kherson.

Zelenskyy calls on continued bipartisan support from Congress

Posted December 21, 2022 at 8:19 PM EST

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia has found an ally in Iran to pursue its “genocidal policy” against Ukraine.

Hundreds of deadly drones sent by Iran to Russia have become a threat to Ukraine’s critical infrastructure.

“That is how one terrorist has found another,” he told the chamber, adding a warning. “It is just a matter of time when they will strike against your other allies if we do not stop them now.”

“We must do it!” he said to applause.

Zelenskyy then noted that Ukraine has not called on U.S. troops to aid in the struggle on the ground.

“I assure you that Ukrainian soldiers can perfectly operate American tanks and planes themselves,” he said.

He then thanked Congress for the financial support his country has received over the 10 months of war that have ravaged the country.

“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, seeming to address recent doubts from some GOP members that the U.S. should continue the flow of money to Ukraine.

He noted that while Russia possesses the power to stop its aggression, Congress, presumably with its pocket purse, has the power to speed up Ukraine’s victory. That would serve as a deterrent to other countries with thoughts of invasion, he added.

“It would be naïve to wait for steps toward peace from Russia, which enjoys being a terrorist state. Russians are still poisoned by the Kremlin,” he said.

The road toward peace, he said, is dependent on bipartisan support from the U.S.

To close his remarks, Zelenskyy presents Ukrainian battle flag

Posted December 21, 2022 at 8:17 PM EST

Throughout his remarks, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for unity — for the U.S., Ukraine and countries around the world to stand against Russia and defend democracy.

Zelenskyy was on the battlefield in Ukraine the day before. Concluding his remarks, he presented Congress with a flag that was flown over the battlefield and signed by soldiers on the front lines.

"They asked me to bring this flag to you, to the U.S. Congress, to members of the House of Representatives and senators whose decisions can save millions of people. So let those decisions be taken," he said.

"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."

Pelosi, in turn, presented Zelenskyy with the U.S. flag flown over the Capitol today in honor of his visit.

Zelenskyy said Ukrainian troops will spend Christmas in the trenches, like Americans in WWII

Posted December 21, 2022 at 8:09 PM EST
President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky addresses a joint meeting of Congress in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol on December 21, 2022 in Washington, DC.
Win McNamee
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Getty Images North America
President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky addresses a joint meeting of Congress in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol on December 21, 2022 in Washington, DC.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told Congress that before coming to Washington, he was on Ukraine’s front lines to the east. There, he said, the Russians have been pushing to retake land since May.

The Russians are using everything they have against Ukraine, he said, and despite being outgunned by their larger and more technological adversary, the Ukrainian military continues to resist.

“Every inch of that land is soaked in blood, roaring guns sound every hour,” Zelensky said. “… but the Ukrainian Donbas stands.”

He noted that his troops will spend Christmas in battle, not unlike the American military during the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium and Luxembourg in December 1944. There, he said, Americans refused to back down to the Nazis.

And, like the American military then, “Ukraine holds its lines and will never surrender.”

An earlier version of this post stated that the Battle of the Bulge took place in Germany. In fact, it took place in the Ardennes region of Belgium and Luxembourg.

Zelenksyy tells Congress that ‘Ukraine is alive and kicking’

Posted December 21, 2022 at 7:54 PM EST
President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky addresses a joint meeting of Congress in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol on December 21, 2022 in Washington, DC.
Win McNamee
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Getty Images North America
President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky addresses a joint meeting of Congress in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol on December 21, 2022 in Washington, DC.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was met with thunderous applause from Congress as he entered the House Chamber, and further applause as he decried Russia's efforts to take over Ukraine and celebrated the efforts of his own country in defending democracy.

“I think it’s too much for me,” Zelensky said in response to applause before beginning his address.

He emphasized the role the United States has played in bringing together countries in support of Ukraine, “uniting the global community in defending freedom and protecting international law.”

“From the United States to China, from Europe to Latin America and from Africa to Australia – the world is too interconnected and interdependent to allow someone to stay inside and at the same time to feel safe when such a battle continues,” said.

Just In

Zelenskyy was escorted into the Chamber by House Democrats

Posted December 21, 2022 at 7:42 PM EST
Members of Congress hold up a Ukrainian flag as President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky addresses a joint meeting of Congress in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol on December 21, 2022 in Washington, DC.
Chip Somodevilla
/
Getty Images North America
Members of Congress hold up a Ukrainian flag as President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky addresses a joint meeting of Congress in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol on December 21, 2022 in Washington, DC.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was escorted into a packed House Chamber by a welcome committee made up of members of both Congressional chambers.

His arrival was met with extended applause from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

Escorts from the House included Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-M.D., Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Cali., Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill.

He then took to the lectern to address Congress.

Zelenskyy's Address

Senate arrives for joint meeting

Posted December 21, 2022 at 7:23 PM EST
US Vice President Kamala Harris (L) and US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) chat ahead of Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky address to the US Congress at the US Capitol in Washington, DC on December 21, 2022.
MANDEL NGAN
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AFP via Getty Images
US Vice President Kamala Harris (L) and US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) chat ahead of Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky address to the US Congress at the US Capitol in Washington, DC on December 21, 2022.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called the House to order to begin the joint meeting.

Senators entered the Hall of the House, led by Vice President Kamala Harris, who walked to the podium to sit side-by-side with Pelosi.

Just In

Pelosi welcomes Zelenskyy to the Capitol

Posted December 21, 2022 at 6:54 PM EST
US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) meets with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky at the US Capitol in Washington, DC on December 21, 2022.
MANDEL NGAN
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AFP via Getty Images
US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) meets with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky at the US Capitol in Washington, DC on December 21, 2022.

In a photo and press op ahead of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s remarks in the joint meeting of Congress, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi applauded Zelenskyy for “making the case so clearly” about Ukraine’s need for more security assistance.

Pelosi also noted Russia’s targeting of women and children as “weapons of war,” and said that was “something the Russians are going to have to answer for.”

Pelosi's father was a member of Congress when Winston Churchill spoke in a joint meeting in 1941, almost exactly 81 years ago.

"He made the case for calling on America to help fight tyranny in Europe. He said at that time, ‘We are doing the noblest work in the world, not only defending hearth and homes, but the cause of freedom in every land,'" Pelosi said.

"That is exactly what the people of Ukraine are doing – defending not just their own homes, their own hearths, but freedom and democracy throughout the world."

Zelenskyy said his remarks tonight were not only for Congress, but addressed to all Americans.

"I want to give all the messages I prepared in your language, with all respect to your country, for that support that you’ve done for Ukraine," Zelensky said.

Joint meetings of Congress: A short (and star-studded) history

Posted December 21, 2022 at 6:41 PM EST
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis speaks at the most recent joint meeting of Congress in the U.S. Capitol on May 17, 2022.
Win McNamee
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Getty Images
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis speaks at the most recent joint meeting of Congress, on May 17, 2022.

Tonight's proceedings are formally known as a "joint meeting of Congress" (not to be confused with a "joint session," which is typically reserved for a sitting U.S. president in situations like State of the Union addresses).

They are generally used for Congress to hear from an important figure — particularly leaders of other countries — and became a standard part of foreign leaders' state visits to the U.S. after 1945, according to the House of Representatives.

There are a few joint meetings on the record from before 1945, including an address by Hawaiian King Kalakaua in 1874. Congress has heard from more than 250 presidents, prime ministers and monarchs in the years since.

Some of the most recent include French President Emmanuel Macron in 2018, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in 2019 and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in May of this year.

The House of Representatives also lists five known instances of informal addresses by foreign leaders or dignitaries to the House and Senate:

  • Prime Minister Winston Churchill of the United Kingdom on Dec. 26, 1941.
  • President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica on Sept. 22, 1987.
  • President José Napoleón Duarte of El Salvador on Oct. 15, 1987.
  • President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine on March 16, 2022.
  • First Lady Olena Zelenska of Ukraine on July 20, 2022.
Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska speaks to members of the Congress in the Capitol Visitors Center Auditorium on July 20.
Greg Nash
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POOL/AFP via Getty Images
Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska speaks to members of the Congress in the Capitol Visitors Center Auditorium on July 20.

Which members of Congress won’t be in attendance tonight?

Posted December 21, 2022 at 6:25 PM EST

Even as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged her colleagues in a letter to stay in Washington for Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s address, several members won’t be in attendance.

Republican Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina, who’s part of the House Freedom Caucus,told Politico he wouldn’t attend Zelenskyy’s address because he’s against funding for Ukraine and “his words will not change my mind!!”

U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman (center) listens during a hearing at the Heritage Foundation June 21, 2022 in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong
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U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman (center) listens during a hearing at the Heritage Foundation June 21, 2022 in Washington, DC.

Eleven GOP senators and 57 representatives voted against the last congressional funding measure for Ukraine in May. Except for Norman, no other members have publicly announced they're not attending in protest.

But Zelenksyy’s address — scheduled for 7:30p.m. — may be too late for members trying to leave Washington for the holidays ahead of a massive winter storm that’s caused flight cancellations and delays.

Since House members don't have to be physically present for votes, more members could be out of town. There are currently 176 active proxy letters in the House, according to the Office of the Clerk. That doesn't mean all 176 members will be absent, however.

Context

A divided Congress is looming. What does that mean for Ukraine?

Posted December 21, 2022 at 6:11 PM EST
The U.S. Capitol Building on December 21, 2022 in Washington, DC.
Anna Moneymaker
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The U.S. Capitol Building on December 21, 2022 in Washington, DC.

With Republicans poised to take control in the House, U.S. aid to Ukraine in its war in Russia may face greater resistance in Congress next year.

Some Republicans have voiced their opposition to a steady flow of cash to Kyiv as the war with Russia drags on.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, who is poised to become the next House speaker, in October warned the Biden administration that a Republican-led House would no longer stand for a “blank check” policy toward Ukraine.

Similarly, a faction of right-wing conservatives, led by House Armed Services Committee member Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, has said that “the days of endless cash and military materiel to Ukraine are numbered.”

Still, the majority of Republican lawmakers support additional aid for Ukraine, including another$45 billion tacked onto this week’s proposed spending bill. They argue that a triumphant Russia poses a greater danger to the U.S. than a growing deficit. Among them is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who on Wednesday said, that defeating Russia would help prevent further security crises in Europe, and deter other would-be aggressors, including China.

"Helping our friends in Eastern Europe to win this war is also a direct investment in reducing Putin's future capabilities to menace America, threaten our allies and contest our core interests," McConnell said on the Senate floor.

Congress has already allocated more than $65 billion to provide Ukraine with weapons, humanitarian aid, and to keep its government functioning. If passed, the latest supplemental package would bring the total to more than $100 billion.

In a press conference, President Biden said “Democrats and Republicans alike” support the push to help Ukraine defend itself, and to supply economic and humanitarian aid — and described the support as “unequivocal and unbending.”

“We understand in our bones that Ukraine’s fight is part of something much bigger,” Biden said, condemning the “atrocities” committed by Russia in its attacks on the country.

Light moments

Biden and Zelenskyy share jokes about their continued partnership

Posted December 21, 2022 at 5:58 PM EST
U.S. President Joe Biden (R) and President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky share a laugh during a joint press conference in the East Room at the White House on December 21, 2022 in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong
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Getty Images North America
U.S. President Joe Biden (R) and President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky share a laugh during a joint press conference in the East Room at the White House on December 21, 2022 in Washington, DC.

When asked by a reporter whether the U.S. could “make long story short” and help liberate Ukrainian territories “sooner than later,” President Biden smiled and pointed to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

“His answer’s yes,” Biden said to laughs.

While Zelenskyy spoke in Ukrainian through the news conference, he answered Biden in English: “I agree.”

Zelenskyy said the two countries have maintained open communication because he respects Biden "as a president, as a human being."

"I can send messages to President Biden," Zelenskyy said. "For example, if it's not serious, you said, what's going to happen after Patriots are installed? After that, we will send another signal to President Biden that we would like to get more Patriots," he said with a smile as Biden laughed.

Biden then said the U.S. would continue to lean on NATO and European allies in providing more security assistance, too.

“They’re not looking to go to war with Russia, they’re not looking for third world war, and all of that can be succeeded by assisting Ukraine in the battlefield,” Biden said.

Biden says Putin should take notice of Zelenskyy's visit

Posted December 21, 2022 at 5:43 PM EST

On the occasion of the Ukrainian leader's first visit outside of his country in nearly 10 months of war — a visit not to any easily accessible European country, but boldly across the Atlantic Ocean to Washington, D.C. — Biden said he hoped Russian President Vladimir Putin would take notice.

"It's very important for him and everyone else to see that President Zelenskyy and I are united, two countries together, to make sure [Putin] cannot succeed," Biden said.

In recent months, Ukraine has endured strikes from missiles and self-detonating drones that have damaged critical infrastructure, leaving large portions of its population intermittently without power and water.

"As the winter is setting in and Putin is increasingly going after civilian targets and women and children, orphanages — this guy is — well," Biden said, pausing. "But he's going to fail. He's already failed because he now knows that there's no way he's ever going occupy all of Ukraine. There's no way in which he's going to be accepted by the Ukrainian people."

Asked if he had a message for Putin, Zelenskyy responded first about Biden. "I am standing here in the United States with President Biden at the same podium because I respect him as a person, as a president, as a human being," he said.

Unspoken was the message that he could say none of these things about Putin. "What kind of message can I send him after he actually destroyed our life, is destroying our life?" Zelenskyy said.

War’s end depends on Putin’s actions, Biden says

Posted December 21, 2022 at 5:22 PM EST
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky holds a joint press conference with US President Joe Biden in the East Room of the White House, in Washington, DC on December 21, 2022
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI
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AFP via Getty Images
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky holds a joint press conference with US President Joe Biden in the East Room of the White House, in Washington, DC on December 21, 2022

When asked about what he sees for the war’s end, President Biden said that all depends on Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“It could end today if Putin had any dignity at all and did the right thing and pulled out,” Biden said.

“He thought he could break NATO, he thought he could break the West,” Biden said. “He was wrong, wrong, wrong.”

Biden says he's not worried about resolve faltering among the U.S. and European allies

Posted December 21, 2022 at 5:21 PM EST

President Biden said he isn't worried that the resolve between the U.S. and its allies in Europe will falter.

"I've never seen NATO or the EU more united about anything at all. And I see no sign of there being any change," Biden said. "We all know what's at stake," he added — territorial sovereignty and the U.N. charter.

"Putin thought he would weaken NATO," Biden said. "Instead, what did he do? He produced a more united Europe with Sweden and Finland joining." (Finland and Sweden have applied to join the bloc, though Turkey and Hungary still have yet to ratify their membership.)

Asked what his message was to the American people on his historic visit to Washington, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the American people and the Ukrainian people are fighting together for a "common victory against tyranny."

"We have the same values and the same understanding of life," Zelenskyy said. "You understand it only when the war in your country when someone like these terrorists from Russia come to your houses."

Zelenskyy: 'We need to survive this winter, we need to protect our people'

Posted December 21, 2022 at 5:12 PM EST
President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky delivers remarks during a joint press conference with U.S. President Joe Biden in the East Room at the White House on December 21, 2022.
Alex Wong
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Getty Images North America
President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky delivers remarks during a joint press conference with U.S. President Joe Biden in the East Room at the White House on December 21, 2022.

Speaking at a news conference with President Biden, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy noted the importance of aide to his country as the winter approaches and Russia continues to target its energy sector.

“We need to survive this winter, we need to protect our people,” Zelenskyy said, speaking in Ukrainian with the assistance of a translator. “This is a key humanitarian issue, a survival issue.”

Zelenskyy said “every dollar” the U.S. gives to Ukraine will go toward strengthening global security, and he emphasized Biden’s efforts in unifying allies in support of Ukraine.

Just In

The U.S. will support Ukraine for 'as long as it takes,' Biden says

Posted December 21, 2022 at 5:08 PM EST
US President Joe Biden and Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky hold a joint press conference in the East Room of the White House, in Washington, DC on December 21, 2022.
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI
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AFP via Getty Images
US President Joe Biden and Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky hold a joint press conference in the East Room of the White House, in Washington, DC on December 21, 2022.

President Biden opened his news conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy by saying that the United States is committed to supporting Ukraine's effort against Russia.

"The United States is committed to ensuring that the brave Ukrainian people can continue to defend their country against Russian aggression as long as it takes," Biden said. "You will never stand alone."

As he stood at a podium alongside Zelenskyy, Biden emphasized the support that the U.S. has already provided, ticking off a summary of the aid that the U.S. and its allies had sent to Ukraine over the past 300 days of Russia's "unprovoked, unjustified, all-out assault," in Biden's words: military armaments and equipment, humanitarian assistance and direct budgetary support for the Ukrainian government.

For its part, Ukraine "has defied Russia's expectations at every single turn," Biden said.

"Russia is using winter as a weapon, freezing people, starving people, cutting them off from one another. It's the latest example of the outrageous atrocities the Russian forces are committing against innocent Ukrainian civilians, children and their families," he said, adding that the U.S. will offer help to repair critical energy infrastructure. Biden also said he would sign the omnibus spending building that includes $45 billion in additional military and humanitarian funding for Ukraine through the end of the fiscal year next September.

As to how the conflict might come to an end, Biden was circumspect: "Well, let me put it this way. He's not open, but you're open to pursuing peace," he said to Zelenskyy, contrasting him with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. "We also know that Putin has no intention of stopping this cruel war."

Biden and Zelenskyy are expected to speak at a press conference momentarily

Posted December 21, 2022 at 4:24 PM EST

President Biden and President Zelenskyy are expected to speak at a news conference at the White House momentarily, following their bilateral meeting.

Stay tuned for live updates.

ICYMI
DOJ's role

Attorney General Merrick Garland joins Biden’s White House meeting with Zelenskyy

Posted December 21, 2022 at 4:19 PM EST
FILE - Attorney General Merrick Garland at the Justice Department, Aug. 11, 2022, in Washington. A DOJ spokesperson told NPR that Garland will join President Joe Biden in a meeting at the White House with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy Wednesday.
Susan Walsh
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AP
Attorney General Merrick Garland at the Justice Department on Aug. 11. A DOJ spokesperson told NPR that Garland will join President Biden in a White House meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday.

Attorney General Merrick Garland is joining President Biden's meeting with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, according to Department spokesperson Anthony Coley.

Coley told NPR that Garland, who traveled to Ukraine in June to help prosecutors with individuals involved in war crimes, was joining the two leaders but didn't give an exact reason.

However, the Justice Department has been helping Ukraine identify, apprehend and prosecute war crimes since June through the DOJ’s War Crimes Accountability Team.

It wasn’t long after Russian forces invaded Ukraine in February that reports of alleged war crimes began to surface. As of this month, they totaled more than 50,000.

Matilda Bogner, who heads a team of United Nations investigators, told NPR in April that the allegations include using explosive weapons in civilian areas, unlawful executions, sexual violence and other human rights violations.

This won't be Zelenskyy's first time speaking to Congress

Posted December 21, 2022 at 3:56 PM EST
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks to the U.S. Congress by video, waving on a large screen.
Pool
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Getty Images
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks to the U.S. Congress by video on March 16.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has addressed the U.S. Congress before, albeit not in person.

In March, just weeks after Russia launched its full-scale invasion, Zelenskyy appeared via video from Kyiv and implored lawmakers and President Biden to send more aid to Ukraine. He also played a graphic video of the devastation unfolding in his country, ending with the words, "close the sky over Ukraine."

Zelenskyy's remarks — delivered mostly in Ukrainian with an English interpreter — invoked pivotal moments in American history when the country was attacked, including Pearl Harbor and Sept. 11, 2001, as well as rhetoric reminiscent of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.

"In your great history, you have pages that would allow you to understand Ukrainians, understand us now," he said at one point.

Biden responded that same day by thanking him for his speech and pledging an additional $800 million to help boost security measures.

Congress has provided more than $65 billion in aid to Ukraine so far, to the concern of some House Republicans. It's voting now on sending more aid.

ICYMI
Putin Speech

Vladimir Putin promised his military 'everything' it asks for in an annual defense speech

Posted December 21, 2022 at 3:52 PM EST
Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed approximately 15,000 armed forces members in an annual defense review Wednesday. He promised that the military would get "everything" it asks for with no funding restrictions.
Vadim Savitsky/AP
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Pool Sputnik/Russian Defense Ministry Press Service
Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed approximately 15,000 armed forces members in an annual defense review Wednesday. He promised that the military would get "everything" it asks for with no funding restrictions.

Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke at an annual defense meeting Wednesday as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was en route to Washington to ask President Biden and the U.S. Congress for additional support.

“It is well known that today the military potential and capabilities of virtually all major NATO countries are being actively used against Russia,” Putin said to some 15,000 Russian military officials attending virtually. “Nevertheless, our soldiers, sergeants and officers are fighting for Russia courageously and staunchly, confidently, step by step they solve their tasks.”

Putin went on to thank the troops for their service in Russia’s “special military operation” and assured them that Russia’s military capabilities grow stronger every day.

The annual meeting at Russia’s National Defence Control Centre was a review of the armed forces’ performance in 2022 and was used to set objectives for 2023. Putin did not admit any Russian failures in Ukraine.

He spoke about the importance of maintaining and improving Russia’s nuclear capabilities of delivering warheads by land, air or sea, which he said was the “main guarantee” of preserving Russia’s sovereignty and balance of power in the world.

He called for improving Russia’s drone capabilities and better outfitting of troops, including with night vision devices, first-aid kits, helmets and body armor.

"Everything a fighter needs should be modern, convenient and reliable, and the supply should be based on real needs,” Putin said.

With an emphasis on “everything” and a promise of no budget cap, Putin assured his leaders that the government will “give everything that the army asks for.”

After noting that 300,000 Russian citizens have been drafted -- 150,000 of whom are already undergoing training -- Putin passed the microphone to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

Shoigu blamed the United States and the West for intervening and accused Ukraine of conducting terrorist attacks and targeting civilians and doubling down on the idea that Russia is somehow not at fault for its war against Ukraine.

Here's who's participating in today's Oval Office meeting

Posted December 21, 2022 at 3:41 PM EST

Here's the full list of the participants in today's U.S.-Ukraine meeting in the Oval Office, according to the White House.

From the U.S.:

  • President Joe Biden
  • Vice President Kamala Harris
  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken
  • Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin
  • Attorney General Merrick Garland
  • Jake Sullivan, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley
  • USAID Administrator Samantha Power
  • U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink
  • Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland
  • Amanda Sloat, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Europe, National Security Council
  • Rebecca Lissner, Special Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor to the Vice President
  • Trey Lyons, Director for Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, National Security Council

From Ukraine:

  • President Volodymyr Zelenskyy
  • Andriy Yermak, Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine
  • Oleksandr Kubrakov, Vice Prime Minister on the Reconstruction of Ukraine, Minister for the Development of Communities, Territories and Infrastructure
  • Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba
  • Roman Mashovets, Deputy Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine
  • Andriy Sybiha, Deputy Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine
  • Ihor Brusylo, Deputy Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine
  • Ukraine's Ambassador the United States Oksana Markarova
  • Sergii Nykyforov, Press Secretary to the President of Ukraine
  • Dymtro Lytvyn, Advisor to the Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine
  • Yariskav Brisiuck, Deputy Chief of Mission

Biden reminds Zelenskyy of his 'Time' magazine Person of the Year award

Posted December 21, 2022 at 3:30 PM EST

As President Biden wrapped his first public remarks ahead of the two leaders' bilateral meeting, he pointed at Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and said, "By the way, we have a famous thing that occurs once a year. We pick the Man of the Year at Time magazine. You are the Man of the Year in the United States of America."

Earlier this month, Time named Zelenskyy its Person of the Year for 2022, along with the "spirit of Ukraine."

In naming Zelenskyy for the honor, the magazine's writers credited his leadership with helping to galvanize Ukraine's defense against the Russian invasion and lift the country's profile worldwide.

"Whether one looks at this story of Ukraine with a sense of hope or a sense of fear, and the story is, of course, not fully written yet ... Zelenskyy has really galvanized the world in a way we haven't seen in decades," Time editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal said when revealing the news on the TODAY show.

Sen. McConnell says supporting Ukraine is the right thing to do

Posted December 21, 2022 at 3:14 PM EST

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke about Zelenskyy's visit and aid to Ukraine in remarks on the Senate floor on Wednesday.

He called the bipartisan spending bill "imperfect but strong," emphasizing its investment in military spending and cuts to non-defense, non-veteran spending.

"This is a debate about American security, American service members, and American interests on the world stage," the Kentucky Republican added.

McConnell said that support for Ukraine also has implications for America's security.

Defeating Russia would help prevent further security crises in Europe and economic chaos that could hurt American trading partners and workers directly, he said. And it would serve as a stark warning to other would-be aggressors, McConnell said, pointing to China as an example.

"Helping our friends in Eastern Europe to win this war is also a direct investment in reducing Putin's future capabilities to menace America, threaten our allies and contest our core interests," he said.

McConnell said that continuing U.S. support for Ukraine is not only "morally right" but also a "direct investment in cold, hard American interests."

He closed by decrying Russia's aggression and praising Ukraine's perseverance, adding that Congress "will be honored to hear the message that their courageous president brings to us on behalf of the brave citizens he represents."

Watch the full speech here:

Zelenskyy presented Biden with a military captain's medal

Posted December 21, 2022 at 3:06 PM EST
US President Joe Biden and Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky meet in the Oval Office of the White House, in Washington, DC on December 21, 2022.
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI
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AFP via Getty Images
US President Joe Biden and Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky meet in the Oval Office of the White House, in Washington, DC on December 21, 2022.

President Biden welcomed President Zelenskyy to the White House in a brief public appearance before the two leaders decamped for a private bilateral meeting in the Oval Office.

In a brief set of remarks to journalists, Biden thanked the Ukrainian leader for making the long journey to Washington during a "brutal, brutal war."

Ukraine's president, dressed in a military green sweater adorned with the gold trident of Ukraine's coat of arms, replied that it was a "great honor" to meet with Biden.

And Zelenskyy presented Biden with a medal, passed along from a Ukrainian military captain who he said was fighting in Bakhmut, the small city in eastern Ukraine where much of the intense fighting has focused in recent weeks.

"One guy, a real hero, a real captain — he asked me to pass his award," Zelenskyy said.

"Undeserved but much appreciated," Biden replied.

Context

Congress has appropriated $44 billion for Ukraine in its giant annual spending bill

Posted December 21, 2022 at 2:33 PM EST
U.S. and Ukrainian flags are put in place along Pennsylvania Ave. on Wednesday ahead of a visit from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Jacquelyn Martin
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AP
U.S. and Ukrainian flags are put in place along Pennsylvania Ave. on Wednesday ahead of a visit from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

In the $1.7 trillion dollar spending bill proposed this week by congressional leaders, about $45 billion is specifically earmarked for Ukraine, according to a summary of the bill prepared by the House Appropriations Committee.

That total — which includes both military and humanitarian emergency assistance — is about $8 billion more than the Biden administration had asked for. About $9 billion will provide direct assistance under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, and another provision increased Biden's ability to order transfers of defense equipment.

Much of the funding is focused on replenishing and resupplying weapons stores. The U.S. has sent enormous numbers of munitions and weapons systems to Ukraine in 2022. Nearly $12 billion is allotted for the Department of Defense to replenish those stockpiles. The bill also includes more than $900 million for the Pentagon to expand the country's defense production capabilities. Another $7 billion is marked for supporting U.S. military European Command

The proposed humanitarian aid includes $13 billion in budgetary support for the government of Ukraine, along with $2.5 billion to "address the dire humanitarian needs of Ukraine" and $2.4 billion to support Ukrainian refugees.

If passed, U.S. assistance to Ukraine will top more than $100 billion in total this year.

Here's what's on Zelenskyy's schedule for today

Posted December 21, 2022 at 2:20 PM EST
Members of the international news media report near the White House prior to Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's meeting with President Biden on Wednesday.
Olivier Douliery
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AFP via Getty Images
Members of the international news media report near the White House prior to Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's meeting with President Biden on Wednesday.

This trip marks the first time President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has left Ukraine since Russia's offensive started 300 days ago.

So it comes as no surprise that his schedule — just a few short hours at the White House — doesn't leave room for downtime.

While the timing of specific events is still tentative, a senior administration official said yesterday that Zelenskyy will:

  • Meet with President Biden for an "in-depth strategic discussion on the way ahead on the battlefield,” on military aid and training, sanctions and export controls on Russia, and humanitarian aid.
  • Meet with key members of Biden's national security team.
  • Hold a news conference at the White House.

And then he'll cap off his meetings with the joint meeting of Congress this evening.
It's not the White House's first rodeo at hosting impromptu meetings, but it's still notable just how quickly these plans came together.

According to the senior official, Biden and Zelenskyy first discussed a possible visit during a Dec. 11 phone call, and the White House formally invited the Ukrainian president last week. Zelenskyy’s team accepted the invitation on Friday, and confirmed the details on Sunday.

One reason for the speed? Security. Asked about the risk involved with having Ukraine’s leader out of his country, the senior administration official said that the two countries had worked together closely on the “security parameters,” and Zelenskyy felt he had what he needed.

Just In

Zelenskyy has officially arrived at the White House

Posted December 21, 2022 at 2:18 PM EST

President Biden greeted his Ukrainian counterpart at the White House for what's expected to be a historic day for both countries.

Wearing a sweater the olive green color of army fatigues, Zelenskyy shook hands with Biden and First lady Jill Biden, paused for the press pool, then headed into the White House without taking questions.

The two leaders will hold a bilateral meeting in the Oval Office where they're expected to hold an "in-depth strategic discussion on the way ahead on the battlefield,” according to a senior administration official.

NPR's Ximena Bustillo was there on the ground and captured this photo:

President Biden greets his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, at the White House on Wednesday.
Ximena Bustillo
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NPR
President Biden greets his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, at the White House on Wednesday.

Zelenskyy has arrived in the U.S.

Posted December 21, 2022 at 1:53 PM EST
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy
Telegraph
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Screenshot by NPR
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy arrives at Joint Base Andrews outside of Washington on Wednesday.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine has arrived in the U.S. for his first foreign trip outside of Ukraine since Russia invaded last February.

Zelenskyy announced his arrival at Joint Base Andrews outside of Washington on the social media app Telegram. Photos showed him disembarking a U.S. military plane dressed in his trademark practical attire in a plain jacket and cargo pants.

"I am in Washington today to thank the American people, the President and the Congress for their much-needed support. And also to continue cooperation to bring our victory closer," Zelenskyy wrote.

He nodded to negotiations over "the resilience and defense capabilities" of Ukraine. And he concluded by alluding to his administration's unwavering stance that Ukraine will not agree to cede any territory to Russia as part of a peace plan: "Next year, we must return the Ukrainian flag and freedom to our entire land, to all our people," he wrote.

Iconic sites around the world will power down tonight in solidarity with Ukraine

Posted December 21, 2022 at 1:39 PM EST
The Christmas tree is lit at Rockefeller Plaza in New York City.
Kena Betancur
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AFP via Getty Images
The Christmas tree at Rockefeller Plaza in New York City was lit on Nov. 30.

Famous locations across the West are turning off their lights tonight to show solidarity with Ukraine on the shortest, darkest day of the year.

Some of the sites that plan to turn off their lights at 8 p.m. local time include the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree in New York, the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree in London, Paris City Hall, the Colosseum in Rome, the Sydney Opera House, Wrocław Market Square in Poland and the main Christmas tree in Prague.

The first venue to participate was New York's Carnegie Hall, which turned off its lights during a celebration of Ukrainian Christmas songs earlier this month.

The #LightUpUkraine campaign is part of a fundraising drive to acquire 1,000 generators for hospitals across Ukraine, which is facing a winter of blackouts and Russian attacks on its energy infrastructure.

It aims to raise $10 million via UNITED24, the national platform that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy launched earlier this year. He will be speaking to a joint meeting of Congress this evening.

Attacks on energy infrastructure mean that Ukrainian doctors must often perform complex and life-saving procedures by flashlight, further putting people at risk, organizers said in a release.

The cost of the generators they need ranges from $2,000 to $35,000, depending on their capacity and purpose.

“When the light shuts off, you always take it as something out of the ordinary. But when you spend four, ten, twenty hours or even days without it, and you start to get used to the darkness – that's the worst thing ever," Zelenskyy said in a statement. "This means that light is not the only thing they want to take away from you. They aim for everything that is part of your life."

He urged friends of Ukraine to donate to the campaign on behalf of doctors forced to operate in the dark, parents trying to support their families through the darkness and "every Ukrainian who has faith in freedom."

Context

Ukraine has endured a barrage of Russian attacks on critical infrastructure

Posted December 21, 2022 at 1:18 PM EST
A destroyed tank is in the foreground amid a patch of bare trees, with a power pole in the distance.
Sameer Al-Doumy
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AFP via Getty Images
A destroyed tank sits in the village of Bohorodychne in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday.

Zelenskyy's visit to Washington comes during a months-long Russian assault on Ukraine's critical infrastructure.

Barrages of Russian missiles and Iranian-made "kamikaze"-style drones have repeatedly knocked out electricity and water across Ukraine, leaving utility workers racing to repair systems before the next strikes hit. Power outages are now a regular feature of life across the country, sparking humanitarian concerns as Ukraine's cold winter sets in.

Much of the recent front-line action has centered around Bakhmut, a Ukrainian city about 50 miles from Donetsk where Zelenskyy visited front-line forces earlier this week.

The areas of active conflict and Russian control have shrunk dramatically since the early days of the war. The contested territory has now been confined to portions of Ukraine's eastern and southern regions, extending about 60 miles inland from its border with Russia and coast along the Sea of Azov.

But Russia has gripped tightly to what is left — and it originally had ambitions of seizing much greater swaths of Ukraine, including the capital, Kyiv.

U.S. intelligence officials have said they expect the pace of fighting to slow over the winter. But Ukrainian officials have warned of the opposite, pointing to a growing Russian military presence in Belarus and indications that Russia is training large numbers of new infantry.

Why is Zelenskyy visiting D.C. now? A foreign relations expert explains

Posted December 21, 2022 at 1:02 PM EST
Barricades stand outside the U.S. Capitol.
Chip Somodevilla
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Getty Images
Barricades mark the limit of the public access areas on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.

This is Zelenskyy’s first foreign trip since the Russo-Ukraine war began. Why is he traveling to visit President Biden now?

In a conversation with Morning Edition's A Martinez on Wednesday, Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said Zelenskyy’s visit to Washington is an attempt to gather support from lawmakers and “push” Biden and his administration to provide certain weapons.

“He wants to shore up Ukraine support in the Congress. Above all, with the Republicans who will soon be taking over the House. More broadly, with the American people,” Haass said. “And then secondly, he wants to push President Biden and the administration to be more forthcoming in providing certain types of weapons systems, above all longer-range missiles and the like that can attack Russian forces anywhere in Ukraine or even in Russia.”

Haass said the Biden administration is doing enough to sustain Ukraine in the war, and providing long-range offensive weapons does not support the administration's goal.

“We want to give Ukraine enough to defend itself,” Haass said. “We want to make sure Vladimir Putin does not succeed in extinguishing Ukraine's sovereignty and independence. But the Biden administration from the outset has been wary, to use President Biden's language, about starting World War III.”

Haass said neither Ukraine nor Russia is willing to compromise anytime soon; Putin “wants to hang tough,” and Zelenskyy and most Ukrainians “want every square inch of their country back, including Crimea, which Russia took in 2014.”

“I don't see it. In order for negotiations to succeed — I've been involved in all sorts of negotiations as a former U.S. government official — you need the leadership of the various sides to be both willing and able. Two important factors: It’s willing and able to compromise. I don't see either side as willing.”

🎧 Listen to the full conversation here.

Here's what's in the $1.85 billion military assistance package

Posted December 21, 2022 at 12:45 PM EST

The State Department released more details about what exactly is in the $1.85 billion in military aid to Ukraine that administration officials announced today.

That package is split into two parts, a $1 billion package from the State Department and another $850 million from the Pentagon.

The State Department's aid includes:

  • One Patriot air defense battery and munitions;
  • Additional ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS);
  • 500 precision-guided 155mm artillery rounds;
  • 10 120mm mortar systems and 10,000 120mm mortar rounds;
  • 10 82mm mortar systems;
  • 10 60mm mortar systems;
  • 37 Cougar Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) Vehicles;
  • 120 High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWVs);
  • Six armored utility trucks;
  • High-speed Anti-radiation missiles (HARMs);
  • Precision aerial munitions;
  • Over 2,700 grenade launchers and small arms;
  • Claymore anti-personnel munitions;
  • Demolition munitions and equipment;
  • Night vision devices and optics;
  • Tactical secure communications systems;
  • Body armor and other field equipment.

The additional $850 million in assistance from the Pentagon is expected to include:

  • 45,000 152mm artillery rounds;
  • 20,000 122mm artillery rounds;
  • 50,000 122mm GRAD rockets;
  • 100,000 rounds of 125mm tank ammunition;
  • SATCOM terminals and services;
  • And additional funding for "training, maintenance, and sustainment," according to the State Department.

Zelenskyy traveled to the U.S. via Poland

Posted December 21, 2022 at 12:30 PM EST

Zelenskyy's journey to the U.S., understandably shrouded in secrecy, appears to have involved passing through Poland.

Citing Polish broadcaster TVN24, The Associated Press reports that the Ukrainian president crossed into Poland early Wednesday. The station showed footage of a figure that appeared to be Zelenskyy arriving at a train station and being escorted to a motorcade.

"TVN24 said the video, which was partially blurred for security reasons, was shot Wednesday morning in Przemysl, a Polish border town that has been the arrival point for many refugees fleeing the war," AP reports.

Here's a clip from NBC News showing a man in a recognizable olive fleece walking, surrounded by others in camouflage clothing, toward a row of parked cars:

On Wednesday morning eastern time, President Biden responded to Zelenskyy's tweet announcing his planned visit by wishing him well on his journey.

"I hope you’re having a good flight, Volodymyr. I’m thrilled to have you here," he wrote. "Much to discuss."

Churchill gave a wartime speech to Congress eight decades ago. Pelosi's dad was there

Posted December 21, 2022 at 12:19 PM EST
A black-and-white photo shows British Prime Minister Winston Churchill speaking at the front of a room packed with lawmakers.
Fox Photos/Getty Images
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Hulton Archive
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill addressed Congress in December 1941.

In her letter inviting lawmakers to attend tonight's joint meeting of Congress, outgoing Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi stressed that the evening "will be etched into history as well as part of your legacy."

And, she added, the moment is "fraught with meaning" for her personally.

Pelosi said her father, Rep. Thomas D'Alesandro Jr., was a member of the House on Dec. 26, 1941, when British Prime Minister Winston Churchill addressed Congress to drum up U.S. support for the fight against tyranny in Europe.

"Eighty-one years later this week, it is particularly poignant for me to be present when another heroic leader addresses the Congress in a time of war — and with Democracy itself on the line," she wrote.

Churchill returned to address Congress in two more joint meetings over the years, in 1943 and 1952.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., compared Zelenskyy to Churchill during floor remarks on Wednesday, in which he said today will be "a day to remember in the history of the United States Congress."

It's "nearly unheard of" to hear from a leader who is fighting for the survival of himself, his country and democracy itself, he added.

"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.

The U.S. announces $1.85 billion in new military assistance to Ukraine

Posted December 21, 2022 at 12:08 PM EST

The U.S. government has authorized $1.85 billion in new military assistance to Ukraine, the State Department announced Wednesday.

"Over the past three hundred days, the Kremlin has tried and failed to wipe Ukraine off the map. Now, Russia is trying to weaponize winter by freezing and starving Ukrainian civilians and forcing families from their homes," said U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a statement. "In response, President Biden will announce today that the United States is providing critical new and additional military capabilities to help Ukraine defend itself from Russia’s ongoing brutal and unprovoked assault."

The assistance includes the transfer of a Patriot surface-to-air missile defense system, along with $850 million in security assistance from the Pentagon.

Wednesday's package brings the total U.S. military assistance for Ukraine to $21.9 billion since the beginning of Biden's administration.

Context

The U.S. will send a Patriot missile system to Ukraine. Here's what that means

Posted December 21, 2022 at 11:56 AM EST
A Patriot missile launcher seen in Poland in March.
Evan Vucci
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AP
A Patriot missile launcher seen in Poland in March.

The U.S. is expected to announce today that it will send a Patriot surface-to-air missile system to Ukraine as part of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s visit to Washington, D.C.

The missile system would be perhaps the single most sophisticated weapons transfer of the war so far. Patriot missile batteries are used by the U.S. Army and about a dozen U.S. allies around the world.

Russia has spent recent months using missiles and Iranian-made drones to assault Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, causing widespread power and water outages as winter sets in. As a result, Zelenskyy had upped his calls to the U.S. and its allies to provide more air defense assistance.

The U.S. will send one battery to Ukraine, an official with knowledge of the transfer told NPR on condition of anonymity.

Each battery has three primary components: a set of launchers, a control center and a sophisticated radar.

Depending on which missiles are used and what is being targeted, a Patriot battery has a strike range of roughly 20 to 100 miles — much too small to cover the entirety of Ukraine, which is about 800 miles from east to west and more than 500 miles from north to south. Instead, Ukraine will have to choose a high-value target, such as Kyiv, to protect.

The training needs are also substantial. American troops normally train for months to operate and maintain a Patriot system. Ukraine will send soldiers to Germany to be trained and will likely hope for those normal training times to be condensed.

Still, the transfer is significant. In total, the cost of the battery and accompanying missiles comes to about $1 billion.

Read more about the Patriot missile system here

Ukrainian President Zelenskyy visits Washington to speak with Biden, address Congress

Posted December 21, 2022 at 11:56 AM EST
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks outside during a joint press conference.
Alexey Furman
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Getty Images
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, pictured in Kyiv in September. This is his first trip outside Ukraine since Russia invaded in February.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy will visit President Biden at the White House on Wednesday and will address Congress in a trip aimed at underscoring U.S. support for the country as Russia's war against its neighbor drags on.

During the visit, Biden will announce nearly $2 billion in new security aid, including a Patriot surface-to-air missile battery, a senior administration official told reporters on a conference call. The United States will train Ukraine's military how to use the Patriot in a third country, the official said, noting it will take time before it is operational in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian president's visit is the first to the U.S. since Russia launched its attack in February. It also comes as lawmakers are preparing to vote on an omnibus spending bill that includes $44.9 billion in emergency assistance to Ukraine and NATO allies.

Read more here.