'Close the sky over Ukraine,' President Zelensky urges US Congress

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged American lawmakers to do more to protect his country from Russia's invasion in an address to the US Congress on Wednesday in which he pleaded with President Joe Biden to be the world's "leader of peace".

"Russia has turned the Ukrainian sky into a source of death for thousands of people," Zelensky said in his virtual address before showing video containing graphic images of death and destruction in Ukraine that ended with "close the sky over Ukraine."

Zelensky continued his push for the imposition of a no-fly zone over Ukraine and asked for more planes and defence systems to respond to a Russian invasion launched last month that has caused large-scale destruction in his country and has unleashed a wave of refugees. He also called for more economic sanctions against Russia.

Ukraine is facing terror that Europe had not experienced since World War II and the nation's destiny is being decided, Zelensky told the US lawmakers through an interpreter.

"Is this a lot to ask for - to create a no-fly zone over Ukraine to save people? Is this too much?" Zelensky asked in his remarks made from Kyiv, his country's capital that is under attack every day but, he said, "doesn't give up."

Zelensky closed his address with a direct plea in English to Biden: "I wish you to be the leader of the world. Being the leader of the world means to be the leader of peace."

Along with NATO, Biden and many U.S. lawmakers have resisted a no-fly zone amid concerns that it would escalate the conflict with nuclear-armed Russia. The White House so far also has not supported a proposal to help transfer Russian-made MiG warplanes into Ukraine, though that idea has some support in Congress.

Zelensky invoked American history, asking the lawmakers to remember the 1941 Japanese bombing of Hawaii's Pearl Harbor, the 2001 al Qaeda attacks on the United States and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1963 "I have a dream" speech in Washington.

"I have a dream. These words are known to each of you today. I can say: I have a need. I need to protect our sky," Zelensky said.

Zelensky received a standing ovation before and after his remarks, with House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi introducing him with Ukrainian words meaning "glory to Ukraine." At the conclusion of his remarks, Zelensky waved over the video feed and put his hand on his chest in thanks for the reception.

Biden on Tuesday signed into law US$13.6 billion in emergency aid to Ukraine to help it obtain more weaponry and for humanitarian assistance. Biden was expected to announce $800 million in security assistance to Ukraine later on Wednesday, a White House official said.

He previously announced a ban on Russian oil and other energy imports and has called for a suspension of Russia's trading status that affords its exported products lower tariffs in the international arena.