Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s speech at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, where he expressed his gratitude for U.S. support, was a historic moment and one that 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 how he was received by US lawmakers, with one woman saying the moment brought “tears” to her.
The transatlantic visit was Zelensky’s first trip outside Ukraine since invading Russia in February. He took the opportunity to thank the main Western ally for the support of the country and to ask for additional help.
“Against all odds and pessimistic scenarios, Ukraine has not fallen. Ukraine is alive and vibrant,” Zelensky said.
His trip drew ire from the Kremlin, with a spokesman saying neither US President Joe Biden nor Zelensky showed a “potential willingness to listen to Russia’s concerns”. Moscow has warned that the US supply of Patriot missile systems to Ukraine will prolong the people’s ‘suffering’, and the Russian Foreign Ministry says Kyiv and its Western allies are ‘ready for a long confrontation’ with Russia”.
Yet, in Ukraine itself, people were moved by their leader’s speech.
Kyiv marketing director Mariya Hrachova told CNN she was always moved by Zelensky’s speeches, and Wednesday was no different.
“When he addressed the House of Representatives, what he looked like, he wasn’t wearing a suit, he was himself,” she said. “He said the truth, he said what he wanted, what he had to say, I admire that.”
Her welcome was ‘very touching’, said Hrachova, who highlighted the visit’s effectiveness in ‘bringing back weapons and hundreds of millions of dollars in aid’, although more will be needed in the future. .
“We understand that will have to increase,” Hrachova said. “I know there are varying opinions within the American establishment on the situation in Ukraine and American support for Ukraine, but we hope the majority in government and Congress will support us.”
Tetyana Vasylivna, a fruit vendor in Kyiv, also welcomed Zelensky’s visit to Washington.
“It seems to me that this visit will bring the end of the war closer,” said Vasylivna, from Kherson. “I think this trip will help us achieve victory.”
“I really had tears in my eyes when I see that he (Zelensky) was well received,” she said. “He is doing a great job as chairman, 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 were briefed on the situation on the ground directly by Ukraine’s president, rather than a third party.
“I would say he conveyed it very well, both in terms of message and choreography,” Kuzmenko said. “It was a good way to make all the points and ask for weapons.”
Kuzmenko said he supports Zelensky’s key messages and believes the Russian invasion showed the shortcomings of existing global institutions.
“The current global 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 up to us to fix…this mess, it will be for our children and grandchildren,” Kuzmenko added.
Oleksandr Solonko, a Ukrainian serviceman currently based near Bakhmut, said he was unable to watch Zelensky’s speech in Washington, but he believes the visit was positive.
“These 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 in the military are doing our job and expecting our government to make progress in obtaining the necessary weapons and other means to help us drive the occupiers out of our land.”
It’s also part of “symbolic warfare,” Solonko said.
“What will happen behind the scenes of the visit, besides military cooperation and economic support, is also interesting,” he said. “There are probably many more issues that need to be discussed between representatives of our countries.”