Mar 8, 2022 - World

Zelensky echoes Churchill in historic address to U.K. Parliament

Zelensky gives virtual address to House of Commons

Zelensky receives standing ovation before his address to the House of Commons. Photo: House of Commons/PA Images via Getty Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday became the first foreign leader to virtually address the U.K.'s House of Commons, where he channeled Britain's wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill while detailing Ukraine's experience under 13 days of Russian assault.

Why it matters: The U.K. has been among the leading suppliers of military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, as Zelensky recognized in his address. But his central plea — for the West to impose a "no-fly" zone over Ukraine — appears likely to go unanswered.

  • The U.K. has also faced criticism for declining to waive asylum-seeking paperwork for Ukrainians fleeing the war, as the European Union has done.

What they're saying: "We did not want this war. We did not want to lose what we have, what is ours, Ukraine. Just the same way that you once didn’t want to lose your country when the Nazis started to fight and you had to defend Britain," Zelensky told a packed House of Commons.

  • "The question for us now is to be or not to be. The Shakespearean question. For 13 days this question has been asked. I can give you a definitive answer — yes, to be," the former actor-turned-president declared.
  • Echoing Churchill's famous June 1940 speech, following the miraculous evacuation of Allied troops from Dunkirk, Zelensky said: "We will not give up, and we will not lose. We will fight till the end — at sea, in the air, we will continue fighting for our land whatever the cost. We will fight in the forests, in the fields, on the shores, in the streets."
  • He concluded by asking the U.K. to keep up the sanctions pressure, declare Russia a "terrorist state," and "make sure our Ukrainian skies are safe."

The remarks were met with a standing ovation and praise from members of all parties, who used subsequent speeches to stress the need to put aside partisanship and support Ukraine in any way possible.

  • "Never before in all our centuries of our parliamentary democracy has the House listened to such an address," U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said after the speech.
  • "In a great European capital, now within range of Russian guns, President Volodymyr Zelensky is standing firm for democracy and freedom. With his righteous defense, I believe he has moved the hearts of everybody in this House."
Go deeper