Ukraine war: ‘Russia has turned the sky into source of death’ – Zelensky urges US to provide more weapons to fight invasion

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky thanked Micheál Martin “for helping the people of Ukraine” in a phone call with the Taoiseach this evening.

n a tweet, Mr Zelekensky said that he and Mr Martin “discussed countering aggression and horrific crimes of Russia against civilians”.

He also “expressed condolences over the murder of Irish journalist Pierre Zakrzewski by Russian soldiers”.

The Taoiseach said he told Mr Zelensky that the “Irish people stand fully behind Ukraine” and that Mr Zelensky “thanked us for our continued humanitarian aid, shelter, global support and sanctions against Russia”.

Mr Zelensky on Wednesday urged the U.S. Congress to provide more weapons to help his country fight off Russian airstrikes in an invasion that has brought death and destruction and unleashed a wave of refugees.

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Reacting to concerns by President Joe Biden and many U.S. lawmakers that imposing a no-fly zone could escalate the conflict with nuclear-armed Russia, Zelensky asked for more planes and air defense systems.

“Russia has turned the Ukrainian sky into a source of death,” he told a meeting of the House of Representatives and Senate. “I need to protect our skies.”

Zelensky’s virtual address came a day after he made a plea to Canada’s parliament for more Western sanctions on Russia and the imposition of a no-fly zone over Ukraine amid a conflict that began with Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion.

Biden on Tuesday signed into law $13.6 billion in emergency aid to Ukraine to help it obtain more weaponry and for humanitarian assistance.

Biden was expected to announce an additional $800 million in security assistance to Ukraine later on Wednesday in remarks on U.S. aid to the country, a White House official said

“Americans, friends, we need you right now. Our country, right now at this moment every night for three weeks now various Ukrainian cities. Russia has turned the Ukrainian sky into a source of death for thousands of people.”

“Russian troops have already nearly 1,000 missiles at Ukraine, countless bombs, they use drones to kill us with precision, this is a terror that Europe has not seen for years. We’re asking for an answer to this from the whole world, is this a lot to ask for to create a no-fly zone over Ukraine? Is this too much to ask? If this is too much to ask, we offer an alternative.”

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“You know what kind of defence systems we need, you know how much depends on the battlefield, on the ability to use aircraft that can protect our people, aircraft that can help Ukraine, help Europe and you know that you have them but they’re not in the Ukrainian sky.”

Mr Zelensky quoted Martin Luther King’s iconic speech and said he too has a dream.

“I have a dream, these words are known to each of you today, I have a need. I need to protect our sky, I need you decision, your help, which means exactly the same, the same you feel when you hear the words ‘I have a dream’,” he said.

“Ukraine is grateful to the United States for it’s overwhelming support, for everything that your people have done for us to pressure the aggressor economically. I am grateful to President Biden for his personal involvement, however, it is true in the darkest time for our country I call on you to do more.”

“New packages of sanctions are needed constantly every week until the Russian military machine stops. We propose that the US sanctions all politicians in the Russian Federation who remain in their offices and do not cut ties with those who are responsible for the aggression of Ukraine.”

“Please take the lead, I’m asking to make sure that the Russian’s do not receive a single penny that they use to destroy people in Ukraine. All American ports should be closed for Russian goods. Peace is more important than income.”

It comes as more than three million people have now fled Ukraine since Vladimir Putin’s war began, according to the United Nations.

Figures from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), mainly comprised of border agency data, showed that at least 3,000,381 people had left the country in the 20 days since Russia’s invasion of its sovereign neighbour began.

In the first days of the war, refugee agencies warned they were bracing for as many as 4 million people to leave Ukraine. But this figure is likely to be revised upwards – with western officials warning last week that this grim forecast could be realised within days.

The exodus seen in Ukraine is the largest in Europe since the Second World War, UN refugee agency chief Filippo Grandi said on Saturday.

But western officials have warned that “these are unprecedented movements of people in Europe, or indeed probably anywhere else in the world”.

Peace talks

Russia and Ukraine both emphasised new-found scope for compromise on Wednesday as peace talks were set to resume three weeks into a Russian assault that has so far failed to topple the Ukrainian government by force.


A view shows a residential building damaged by shelling, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Kyiv Photo: Reuters

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the talks were becoming “more realistic”, while Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said there was “some hope for compromise”, with neutral status for Ukraine – a major Russian demand – now on the table.

Three weeks into the invasion, Russian troops have been halted at the gates of Kyiv, having taken heavy losses and failed to seize any of Ukraine’s biggest cities in a war Western officials say Moscow thought it would win within days.

Ukrainian officials have expressed hope this week that Moscow was coming to terms with its failure to topple the Kyiv government and its lack of fresh troops to keep fighting.

Talks were due to resume on Wednesday by video link for what would be a third straight day, the first time they have lasted more than a single day, which both sides have suggested means they have entered a more serious phase.

“The meetings continue, and, I am informed, the positions during the negotiations already sound more realistic. But time is still needed for the decisions to be in the interests of Ukraine,” Zelenskiy said in a video address overnight.

On Tuesday, Zelenskiy had hinted at a possible route for compromise, suggesting Ukraine would be willing to accept international security guarantees that stopped short of its longstanding hope for full admission to the NATO alliance.

Keeping Ukraine out of NATO was long one of Russia’s main demands in the months before it launched what it calls a “special operation” to disarm and “denazify” Ukraine.

“The negotiations are not easy for obvious reasons,” Lavrov told media outlet RBC news. “But nevertheless, there is some hope of reaching a compromise.”

“Neutral status is now being seriously discussed along, of course, with security guarantees,” Lavrov said. “Now this very thing is being discussed in negotiations – there are absolutely specific formulations which in my view are close to agreement.”

The head of Ukraine’s negotiating team, Zelenskiy’s aide Mykhailo Podlolyak, tweeted ahead of Wednesday’s resumption of talks that Ukrainian military counteroffensives had “radically changed the parties’ dispositions”.

In an intelligence assessment released on Wednesday, Britain said Russian forces were trapped on roads, struggling to cope with Ukrainian terrain and suffering from a failure to gain control of the air.

“The tactics of the Ukrainian Armed Forces have adeptly exploited Russia’s lack of manoeuvre, frustrating the Russian advance and inflicting heavy losses on the invading forces,” said the report.

Europe’s biggest invasion since World War Two has reduced some Ukrainian cities to rubble and sent more than 3 million refugees fleeing abroad.

Still, Ukrainian forces have withstood an assault by a much larger army. Zelenskiy said Ukrainian troops had killed a fourth Russian major general in the latest fighting.

“The occupiers were not successful today, although they threw thousands of their people into battle, in the north, in the east, in the south of our state. The enemy lost equipment, hundreds more soldiers. A lot of dead Russian conscripts, dozens of officers.”

Meanwhile, civilians remain trapped under bombardment in cities where Russia has lain siege. Ukraine said on Wednesday about 20,000 people had managed to escape the besieged port of Mariupol in private cars, but hundreds of thousands remain trapped by Russian shelling, many without heating, power or running water.

Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said it was not clear whether the humanitarian corridor to the city would be opened on Wednesday. In a video address, she said Russian forces were in control of a hospital they had captured on Tuesday in Mariupol, and 400 staff and patients there were being held hostage.

The prime ministers of Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia were due home on Wednesday after an overnight journey out of Kyiv by train.

They met Zelenskiy in the Ukrainian capital on Tuesday in the first visit of its kind since the war began, a symbol of the Ukrainian administration’s success so far in withstanding the Russian assault.

Zelenskiy was due to address the U.S. Congress later on Wednesday by video link, having made similar appearances in parliaments across Europe. The White House said U.S. President Joe Biden would make his first visit to Europe since the invasion next week to discuss the crisis with NATO allies.

The conflict has brought economic isolation upon Russia and the economic cost was fully exposed on Wednesday, as its sanctions-ravaged government teetered on the brink of its first international debt default since the Bolshevik revolution.

Moscow was due to pay $117 million in interest on two dollar-denominated sovereign bonds it had sold back in 2013, but it faces limits on making payments and has talked of paying in roubles, which would trigger a default. 


Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy attends a meeting with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, Polish Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala and Slovenia’s Prime Minister Janez Jansa, in Kyiv, Ukraine yesterday. Photo: via Reuters


Russian troops have taken more than 400 hostages in a major hospital in besieged Mariupol, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.

Locals were trapped in the hospital which fell to the Russians yesterday amid heavy artillery fire, she said.

Mariupol, a key port city on the Black Sea coast, has been encircled by Russian forces for more than a fortnight and residents have had access to food, water and power cut off.

Meanwhile, Russia suggested it could allow a revival of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in a shift from its previous demand that Western sanctions imposed over the invasion of Ukraine would block efforts to bring the deal back.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia had written guarantees that it can carry out its work as a party to the deal.

Under the deal, Iran agreed to limit its nuclear program to make it harder to develop a nuclear bomb – an ambition it denies – in return for relief from global economic sanctions.

The Russian offensive on Ukraine intensified on Wednesday as explosions were reported amid continuous air sirens in the suburbs of Kyiv as the war entered its 21st day.

Around midnight, Russian warships fired missiles and a “huge amount of ammunition” at the Ukrainian sea coast “from a great distance” to the south of Odesa, Ukraine’s interior ministry adviser said.

This came hours before Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky is set to address the US Congress to bolster support against Russia’s military invasion, which has left thousands of people dead and displaced millions.

Earlier in a video address, Mr Zelensky hinted that the peace negotiations between Russia and Ukraine were yielding results as Moscow’s “demands were becoming more realistic”.

“However, time is still needed for the decisions to be in Ukraine’s interests. Our heroes, our defenders give us this time,” he said.

Mr Zelensky also warned that the war will end in shame and poverty for Russia.

A plume of smoke was seen rising up over western Kyiv on Wednesday morning after shrapnel from an artillery shell slammed into a 12-story apartment building in central Kyiv, obliterating the top floor and igniting a fire, according to a statement and images released by the Kyiv emergencies agency.

The neighboring building was also damaged. The agency reported two victims, without elaborating.


Local men help an elderly woman evacuate a residential building damaged by shelling in Kyiv, Ukraine (Photo: Press service of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine/Handout via REUTERS)

Russian forces have intensified fighting in Kyiv suburbs, notably around the town of Bucha in the northwest and the highway leading west toward Zhytomyr, the head of the Kyiv region Oleksiy Kuleba said Wednesday.

He said Russian troops are trying to cut off the capital from transport arteries and destroy logistical capabilities even as they plan a wide-ranging attack to seize Kyiv.

Twelve towns around Kyiv are without water and six without heat.

Russia has occupied the city of Ivankiv, 80km north of Kyiv, and controls the surrounding region on the border with Belarus, Kuleba said.

Across the Kyiv region, he said, “Kindergartens, museums, churches, residential blocks and engineering infrastructure are suffering from the endless firing.”

Earlier, Mr Zelensky has said Ukraine should accept it will not become a member of Nato, hinting at a potential key concession to Russia, which demanded such a guarantee before launching its deadly invasion three weeks ago.

Speaking to military officials of the UK-led Joint Expeditionary Force in a video message yesterday, the Ukraine president said it was a “truth” that it would not join the alliance.

“Ukraine is not a member of Nato. We understand that. We have heard for years that the doors were open, but we also heard that we could not join. It’s a truth and it must be recognised,” Mr Zelensky said.


A rescuer works next to a residential building damaged by shelling in Kyiv, Ukraine (Photo: Press service of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine/Handout via REUTERS)

On the eve of war, Russian president Vladimir Putin demanded assurances that Ukraine would never become a Nato member.

Moscow has repeated the demand since its troops entered Ukraine and also called on Kyiv to sign a neutrality agreement and recognise the independence of pro-Russian republics in the east of the country.

Ukraine has consistently asked for Nato protection during the war, notably in the form of a no-fly zone, but this was the first time Mr Zelensky has conceded that Kyiv will not join the alliance.

President Biden announced yesterday that he would meet Nato leaders in Brussels next week, while Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg made another warning that Russia could use chemical weapons in the conflict.

Responding to the Ukrainian president’s comments, Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson said: “What’s important that is it is for the Ukrainian government to decide what they think is suitable. They should have no decisions imposed upon them.”

The developments came as peace talks between Ukraine and Russia continued, and the leaders of three European Union countries – Poland, the Czech Republic, both Nato members, and Slovenia – surprisingly visited Kyiv.


Nurse Antonina Yefymovych feeds a surrogate-born baby inside a special shelter owned by BioTexCom clinic in a residential basement, as Russia’s invasion continues, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine (Photo: REUTERS/Gleb Garanich)

Despite the diplomatic efforts, Russia’s pummelling of Ukraine continued yesterday the 20th day of the war.

The bombardment of Kyiv was stepped up with apartment buildings and a subway station targeted. Mr Zelensky said the strikes killed dozens of people.

Fighting has intensified on the city’s outskirts in recent days and Mayor Vitali Klitschko announced a 35-hour curfew through to tomorrow morning.

Almost 100 children have now been killed in the war, said Ukrainian officials.

In the city of Mariupol, another 2,000 cars fled hellish conditions along a humanitarian corridor in the biggest evacuation yet from the desperately besieged seaport. 

One official claimed that up to 20,000 people have been killed by the continual Russian bombardment of the seaport city and that bodies were lying in the streets unattended and unable to be buried.

There were also reports last night that Russian soldiers had taken some 400 staff and patients hostage at an intensive care hospital in the city.

The Red Cross also said it was working to evacuate people from the northeastern town of Sumy near the Russian border in about 70 buses.

The number of people who have fled Ukraine since the start of the war has now reached 3 million, said officials. Ukraine war: ‘Russia has turned the sky into source of death’ – Zelensky urges US to provide more weapons to fight invasion

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