Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pleaded with Canadians to imagine the terror and horror unfolding in his country, to do more to close Ukraine’s skies to Russian bombs and to starve out every last dollar for Russia to fund its war.
Zelenskyy appeared by video link from Ukraine where the Russian invasion is now in its 20th day. The death toll confirmed by the United Nations is now close to 700.
The president said 97 of the dead are children.
“Every night is a horrible night,” he said, speaking in Ukrainian, to a crowded House of Commons where almost every MP, many senators, and dozens of members of the public gathered to listen.
“We are not asking for much. We’re asking for justice, for real support.”
In a speech lasting more than 20 minutes, he asked Canadians to imagine if Russian bombs were falling in cities like Vancouver, Edmonton or Toronto, or if it were their children asking why there was a war.
“Can you imagine when you call your friends, your friendly nations, and you ask, ‘Please close the sky, please close the airspace. Please stop the bombing. How many more cruise missiles have to fall on our cities before you make this happen?’” he said. “And they, in return, express their deep concerns about the situation … and they say, ‘Please hold on a little longer.’”
He said he does not wish the war on anyone but he wants, and needs, Canadians and others around the world to understand “what we feel every day. We want to live and we want to be victorious. We want to prevail for the sake of life.”
Zelenskyy issued a similar plea for a no-fly zone in the British House of Commons March 8, and is expected to do so again Wednesday when he speaks to the United States Congress.
NATO countries, including Canada, have thus far resisted the idea of a no-fly zone, fearing it would escalate the crisis by forcing NATO forces to come into direct combat with Russian military.
Defence Minister Anita Anand is in Brussels for a special meeting Wednesday, and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday a leaders’ summit to discuss the Russian invasion is now scheduled for March 24. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office has not yet confirmed if he will attend.
Trudeau did not address the no-fly zone in his speech that welcomed Zelenskyy to Parliament. He told Zelenskyy that he and Ukraine are defending freedom for everyone in the world, not just Ukrainians.
“In the years I’ve known you, I’ve always thought of you as a champion for democracy,” Trudeau said. “And now, democracies around the world are lucky to have you as our champion.”
The words brought a lengthy standing ovation in the House and Zelenskyy, appearing on a large video screen, touched his hand to his heart to say thank you.
Zelenskyy, who three years ago said during a trip to Toronto that Trudeau had been among those who inspired him to enter politics, appealed not just to Canadians, and MPs, but directly to the prime minister, whom he consistently called “Dear Justin.”
He said Canada has always been a reliable partner for Ukraine, but the sanctions and other assistance provided so far has not ended the war. Ukraine, he said, needs to close the airspace, with NATO’s help, to keep Russian aircraft and missiles from continuing to destroy the country.
Speaking to reporters after the speech, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly reinforced that lethal weapon deliveries to Ukraine were ongoing, and that Canada needs to get creative when it came to sanctioning and isolating Putin diplomatically. But she said a defining principal of Canada and allies’ involvement is that they would not cross the “red line” into international conflict.
Canada has previously worked to send weapons including guns, as well as protective gear to Ukraine. Last week it added $50 million in equipment including cameras for drones.
Canada has also sanctioned more than 900 Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian entities and individuals it says are enabling and supporting President Vladimir Putin’s illegal war. Fifteen more Russians, mostly politicians and military leaders, were added to the list Tuesday morning just before Zelenskyy spoke.
As the Zelenskyy speech unfolded, Putin hit back by banning more than 300 Canadians from Russia, including Trudeau, Joly, Gen. Wayne Eyre, chief of defence staff, and almost every Canadian MP from all political parties.
Joly said the ban was not a surprise and would have no bearing on Canada’s response to the war.
In the United States, some Republicans are leaning on President Joe Biden to support a no-fly zone. Following Zelenskyy’s speech Tuesday in Canada, Conservative Leader Candice Bergen and the Conservative caucus backed the idea as well.
“We must do more together with our allies to secure Ukraine’s airspace,” she said, prompting every Conservative MP, as well as some Liberals, to stand and applaud.
“This is not just a war against Ukraine, it is a war against the free democratic world,” she said. “We must stand with Ukraine. It is not a choice. It is a moral duty. Canada was the first country to recognize Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union. Now it’s time to honour that legacy.”
Bergen said at a minimum airspace must be protected over humanitarian corridors established to allow civilians to flee to safety, or aid to reach areas that have been attacked.
Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet said Canada should help arm Ukraine more rapidly and more significantly to defend itself.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said it is impossible for Canadians to imagine their cities being bombed like Kyiv, Mariupol and Kharkiv have been, but Canada will be behind Ukraine “every step of the way.”
—Mia Rabson, Laura Osman and Sarah Ritchie, The Canadian Press