Zelenskiy invokes Churchill as he calls on UK to do more to help Ukraine

The president of Ukraine echoed Winston Churchill and invoked the fight against Nazism as he made a direct plea to Britain to do more to help his country repel the Russian invasion.

Peter Walker www.theguardian.com 

In an unprecedented and emotional speech broadcast live to the House of Commons, Volodymyr Zelenskiy channelled Churchill when he told a packed chamber: “We will continue fighting for our land, whatever the cost. We will fight in the forests, the fields, the shores and in the streets.”

Ukraine “will not lose” to Russia, he vowed. Zelenskiy, who received long ovations from MPs before and after his speech, also cited Shakespeare to describe the plight of his country under Russian invasion.

“The question for us now is to be or not to be,” he said, according to a translation of his speech, which was delivered in Ukrainian and broadcast live from Kyiv. “Oh no, this Shakespearean question. For 13 days this question could have been asked but now I can give you a definitive answer. It’s definitely yes, to be.

“And I would like to remind you the words that the United Kingdom has already heard, which are important again. We will not give up and we will not lose.”

Zelenskiy, unshaven and dressed in a dark T-shirt, delivered his speech sitting next to a Ukrainian flag. His echoes of Churchill, the second world war leader about whom Boris Johnson has written a book, will be seen as a direct appeal to the UK prime minister and his party.

Zelenskiy told MPs that after nearly two weeks of war, during which time hundreds of Ukrainian civilians have been killed, resolve remained strong. “Just the same way you once didn’t want to lose your country when the Nazis started to fight your country and you had to fight for Britain. Thirteen days of this struggle … at four o’clock in the morning we were attacked by cruise missiles.”

The speech came immediately after the UK announced it was phasing out the import of Russian oil and oil products by the end of the year. Zelenskiy reiterated calls for more UK support, including repeating a plea for a no-fly zone, which Nato countries have declined to impose over fears it could trigger another world war.

“We are thankful for this help and I am grateful to you Boris,” he said, addressing the prime minister by name. “Please increase the pressure of sanctions against this country [Russia] and please recognise this country as a terrorist country. Please make sure that our Ukrainian skies are safe. Please make sure that you do what needs to be done and what is stipulated by the greatness of your country.”

The speech was heard in silence, beyond two screens playing Zelenskiy’s speech and the muffled background soundtrack of a simultaneous English translation on headsets given to MPs for the occasion.

A number of MPs tweeted photos of the packed chamber, a practice – like applause – that is not normally permitted.

The former health secretary Jeremy Hunt said he had felt “privileged” to listen, saying: “In history the right things don’t happen automatically – brave people must fight for them.”

Responding to Zelenskiy, Johnson hailed a leader “standing firm for democracy and freedom – in his righteous defiance I believe he has moved the hearts of everybody in this house”.

“In a great European capital now within range of Russian guns, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is standing firm for democracy and for freedom,” the prime minister said.

Saying he would “employ every method” to squeeze Russia with sanctions, Johnson said the UK would continue to supply weapons to Ukraine.

“At this moment, ordinary Ukrainians are defending their homes and their families against a brutal assault, and they are by their actions inspiring millions with their courage and their devotion,” he said.

Because of Commons procedures, the Speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, halted the formal business of the day for Zelenskiy’s speech, and Johnson and other party leaders responded with points of order.

Responding for Labour, Keir Starmer said the Ukrainian leader “has prompted a world into action, where too often we have let Putin have his way”, adding: “He has inspired the Ukrainian nation to resist and frustrated the Russian war machine. He has shown his strength and we must show him – and the Ukrainian people – our commitment and support.”