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Zelenskyy center stage: Facing Congress, pleading for help

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will address the U.S. Congress, the actor-turned-wartime leader’s latest video speech as he uses the West’s great legislative bodies as a global stage to orchestrate support against Russia’s crushing invasion.

Zelenskyy’s livestreamed address Wednesday into the U.S. Capitol will be among the most important in a very public strategy in which he has invoked Winston Churchill, Hamlet and the power of world opinion in his fight to stop Russia.

Nearing the three-week mark in an ever-escalating war, Zelenskyy has used his campaign to implore allied leaders to “close the sky” to prevent the Russian airstrikes that are devastating his country. It has also put Zelenskyy at odds with President Joe Biden, whose administration has stopped short of providing a no-fly zone or the transfer of military jets from neighboring Poland as the U.S. seeks to avoid a direct confrontation with Russia.

Instead, Biden will deliver his own address following Zelenskyy’s speech, in which he is expected to announce an additional $800 million in security assistance to Ukraine, according to a White House official. That would bring the total announced in the last week alone to $1 billion. It includes money for anti-armor and air-defense weapons, according to the official, who was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Appearing in his now-trademark army green T-shirt as he appeals to world leaders, Zelenskyy has emerged as a heroic figure at the center of what many view as the biggest security threat to Europe since World War II. Almost 3 million refugees have fled Ukraine, the fastest exodus in modern times.

The Ukrainian president is no stranger to Congress, having played a central role in Donald Trump’s first impeachment. As president, Trump was accused of withholding security aid to Ukraine as he pressured Zelenskyy to dig up dirt on political rival Biden. Zelenskyy will be speaking to many of the same Republican lawmakers who declined to impeach or convict Trump, but are among the bipartisan groundswell in Congress now clamoring for military aid to Ukraine.

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