Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s speech at the US Capitol on Wednesday, where he expressed gratitude for US support, was a historic moment, and one which resonated with people in his home country.
CNN spoke to members of the public in Ukraine to gauge their reaction to Zelensky’s visit and the way he was received by US lawmakers, with one woman saying the moment brought “tears” to her eyes.
The transatlantic visit was Zelensky’s first trip outside Ukraine since Russia invaded in February. He took the opportunity to thank the key Western ally for the country’s support, and ask for further assistance.
“Against all odds, and doom and gloom scenarios, Ukraine didn’t fall. Ukraine is alive and kicking,” Zelensky said.
His trip drew ire from the Kremlin, with a spokesperson saying neither US President Joe Biden nor Zelensky were showing a “potential willingness to listen to Russia’s concerns.” Moscow warned that the US supplying Patriot missile systems to Ukraine would prolong people’s “suffering,” and Russia’s foreign ministry said Kyiv and its Western allies are “set for a long confrontation with Russia.”
Yet within Ukraine itself, people were touched by their leader’s speech.
Mariya Hrachova, a marketing director in Kyiv, told CNN that she is always moved by Zelensky’s speeches, and Wednesday was no different.
“When he spoke to the House of Representatives, the way he looked, he didn’t wear a suit, he was himself,” she said. “He spoke the truth, he said what he wanted, what he had to say, I admire that.”
His reception was “very touching,” said Hrachova, who underlined the effectiveness of the visit in “bringing back weapons and hundreds of millions of dollars in aid,” even if more will be needed in future.
“We understand that will need to increase,” said Hrachova. “I know that there are various views in the American establishment about the situation in Ukraine and US support for Ukraine, but we hope that the majority in the government and in the Congress will support us.”
Tetyana Vasylivna, a fruit seller in Kyiv, also hailed Zelensky’s visit to Washington.
“It seems to me that this visit will bring the end of the war closer,” said Vasylivna, who is originally from Kherson. “I think this trip will help us to get victory.”
“I really had tears in my eyes when I see in such a good way he (Zelensky) was welcomed,” she said. “He is doing a great job as a president, really great, I have no other words to describe him.”
Oleksandr Kuzmenko, who works in computer graphics in Kyiv, said it was important that US lawmakers heard about the situation on the ground directly from the Ukrainian president, rather than from a third party.
“I’d say he put it across very well, both in terms of messaging and choreography,” Kuzmenko said. “It was a good way to emphasize all the points and ask for weapons.”
Kuzmenko said that he supports Zelensky’s key messages, and believes the Russian invasion has shown the shortcomings of existing world institutions.
“The current world security architecture is ineffective, and we are the reason it needs to be rebuilt, because of our sacrifice,” he said.
“If we let it pass, it won’t be us having to sort … out this mess, it will be for our children and grandchildren,” added Kuzmenko.
Oleksandr Solonko, a Ukrainian serviceman currently based near Bakhmut, said he didn’t manage to watch Zelensky’s speech in Washington, but he believes that the visit was a positive.
“Such visits do not happen by chance. For us, this is an indicator of the commitment of the United States and that we will continue to be supported,” he said.
“We, the military, are doing our job and expect our government to make progress towards obtaining the necessary weapons and other means to help us drive the occupiers from our land.”
It is also part of “the symbolic war,” said Solonko.
“What will happen behind the scenes of the visit, apart from military cooperation and economic support, is also interesting,” he said. “There are probably many more issues that need to be discussed between the representatives of our countries.”
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