During Saturday’s hour-long Zoom meeting with members of Congress, Zelensky thanked the United States for its support so far, but called for more military support and greater sanctions on Russia, including on energy, according to a person familiar with the session.
His message was delivered amid ongoing talks between the United States and European allies about the possibility of providing Ukraine with combat aircraft from eastern European countries, five sources familiar with the discussions told CNN.
In the call with US lawmakers, Zelensky encouraged Eastern European countries to provide Ukraine with the aircraft, stressing that they are necessary to defend against Russian aggression. He said that if Western countries did not impose a no-fly zone, they should grant Ukrainian planes.
US officials say some Biden administration officials are particularly concerned that the Russians will view this as escalatory. The Pentagon said on Friday that the decision is ultimately up to each individual country.
“These are considerations that sovereign nation states have to make on their own and through their own operations,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Friday when asked if the United States would support countries sending MiG29s to Ukraine.
Following the call, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Zelensky had “made a desperate plea to Eastern European countries to provide Ukraine with Russian-made aircraft. These aircraft are in great demand.”
“And I will do everything I can to help the administration facilitate their transfer,” the New York Democrat said.
Nebraska Republican Senator Ben Sasse voiced opposition to a no-fly zone in a statement after the call, saying the situation could “quickly spiral out of control.” But he also urged the United States to send more air power.
Zelensky called for a ban on Russian oil imports and the suspension of all commercial transactions, such as Visa and Mastercard, a senator told CNN on the call. Later on Saturday, Visa Inc and Mastercard announced the suspension of all transactions and operations in Russia due to the invasion of Ukraine.
Zelensky also presented a state of the ground conditions in his country, according to participants in Saturday’s meeting. He described how Russian soldiers captured by Ukrainians were often ignorant of the real conditions in Ukraine and were fighting a hostile war, according to a senator on the call.
The South Carolina Republican said Zelensky “remarked that calling President Putin a war criminal was the right thing to do and believed it would help tremendously.”
After hearing from the Ukrainian leader, several senators took to Twitter to express their support for him and his country. South Dakota Republican John Thune praised Zelensky for his “inspiring courage and determination while under attack, just like his countrymen.” Thun said the United States stands with Ukraine and “should help keep them in the fight while leading the free world against Putin’s war of invasion.”
At the end of the call, dozens of lawmakers fell silent to thank Zelensky and express their support, with some saying “Ukrainian Slava” – or glory to Ukraine – according to someone on the call. The person added that the Ukrainian president was clearly affected by this gesture.
This story has been updated with additional feedback and background information.
Kaitlan Collins, Lauren Fox, Eva Mackind, Kylie Atwood, Oren Lieberman, Barbara Starr, and Artemis Moshtagian contributed to this report.