Russia has attacked three nuclear plants in Ukraine and killed children during strikes on a kindergarten and special needs school, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky told a group of senators during a weekend call.
The attacks on Ukraine's nuclear infrastructure are "not an accident," said Zelensky, who implored U.S. lawmakers to send his country more military equipment so that it can push back Moscow's forces, according to congressional sources who provided the Washington Free Beacon with details of the video call. Russian forces are preventing firefighters from accessing these sites, fueling concerns of a nuclear disaster.
Zelensky also called for a total embargo on Russian oil, which the Biden administration has refrained from enacting as the global price of crude skyrockets due to the ongoing conflict. In making the plea for greater military help—including planes and a no-fly zone in the region—Zelensky told senators, "Don’t allow brave and strong people who share your values to be exterminated," adding "this might be the last time you see me alive."
Zelensky's plea for greater U.S. assistance comes as Russia pounds Kyiv and other key cities in attacks that have killed more than 400 and injured nearly 1,000, according to the United Nations. Civilian centers continue to be attacked, leaving more than 1.5 million refugees fleeing the violence. While the Biden administration and Western partners have issued crippling sanctions on Moscow, Zelensky and his supporters in Congress say it is not enough. The Ukrainian president said during the call that there should be a total embargo of Russian goods and services.
The Ukrainian president also said that if the United States and its partners had issued sanctions on Russia in September or October of last year, Russian president Vladimir Putin likely would not have moved forward with his plans for an unprovoked invasion.
Zelensky's call is leading senators to press for more U.S. assistance. Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) and others are moving to provide Ukraine with more jets, which are among Ukraine's most pressing needs since theirs were destroyed early on in the conflict.
"President Zelensky told us his top priority is that the Ukrainians need to take back their skies, which are being used by Putin to wage war against cities and murder civilians," Cruz said in a statement following the call. "The United States and our allies should move immediately to provide them above all else with fighter jets, as well as with Stingers and other anti-aircraft assets. We must also continue supplying them with additional lethal aid, especially Javelins."
Senate Democrats, Cruz said, "need to end their delays, and the Biden administration needs to cease withholding actionable intelligence from Kyiv."
"The United States should immediately implement an oil and gas embargo on Russia. If the Biden administration won't do so on its own, Congress should mandate that they do so," Cruz said. "As President Zelensky told us, boycotting Russian oil and gas would be the most potent sanction we can impose, by far, and it is also the only economic sanction that can tenably and quickly affect Russia's ability to continue financing its aggression."
Cruz also said that in the coming days Congress should sculpt a new standalone military aid package for Ukraine that includes the items requested by Zelensky. "Ukraine, its people, and its leaders will not survive if we settle for half measures and delay," the senator said.