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Zelenskyy Follows in Churchill's Footsteps — to a Point

FILE - Winston Churchill approaches microphones to make a speech in January 1939.
FILE - Winston Churchill approaches microphones to make a speech in January 1939.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday addressed the U.S. Congress as a wartime leader appealing for American support, as British Prime Minister Winston Churchill did more than 80 years before.

Zelenskyy's visit to Washington, much like Churchill's in December 1941, came with his country under relentless attack and international aid essential to its ability to fight on.

"Ukraine holds its lines and will never surrender," Zelenskyy told Congress, echoing one of Churchill's most famous phrases and earning a standing ovation.

Zelenskyy earlier this year channeled Churchill in a video address to Britain's House of Commons, pledging to "fight in the forests, in the fields, on the shores, in the streets."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he had told Zelensky "that where Winston Churchill stood generations ago, so too does he tonight not just as a president but as an ambassador for freedom itself."

The comparison between Churchill's and Zelensky's trips to the United States has its limits, however, including in the length of the Ukrainian leader's stay.

Churchill spent three weeks in Washington at the invitation of President Franklin Roosevelt, a lengthy visit that historians say wore on the nerves of first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who did not enjoy the two men's late-night cigar- and brandy-fueled conversations.

Zelenskyy's trip lasted only a few hours and included a meeting in the Oval Office, a joint press conference with President Joe Biden, and the speech to Congress.

Churchill ventured across the Atlantic by ship despite the threat of submarines, while Zelenskyy made the journey via aircraft.

When Churchill arrived in the United States, he found a country shaken by the Japanese attack on the naval base at Pearl Harbor and drawn into an international conflict it had sought to avoid.

While Biden is willing to be compared to Roosevelt for his ambitious economic reforms, he does not want to be drawn into a third world war, making clear that he will not send troops to Ukraine, nor even certain types of weapons, in a bid to avoid escalation.