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Ukrainian president ‘reached through’ screen in call for help to U.S. senators

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reportedly wants Americans to go further in punishing Russian President Vladimir Putin for his assault on Ukraine.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) was part of a group of lawmakers who met with Zelensky via videoconference Saturday. Blumenthal said Zelensky asked the Americans to implement further sanctions including a boycott of all Russian goods and services.

“As impersonal as Zoom sometimes seems, this call was very intensely emotional,” Blumenthal said in a remote video news conference with reporters Saturday. “President Zelensky really filled the screen — in fact, reached through it — to touch our hearts, as well as our minds, and it was heart-gripping.”

Zelensky’s Saturday morning video call with American lawmakers came as Russia continued its attack on his country. The human rights office of the U.N. reported on Sunday that at least 364 civilians have died since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. Despite a rising death toll and continued shelling from the Russian military, allies of Zelensky are refusing his request to secure the sky above his land.

Blumenthal said there wasn’t “extensive” discussion about the implementation of a “no-fly” zone in Ukraine that would defend the country from Russian air attacks.

“But clearly, it raises dangers to all of Europe that have been highlighted — the danger of escalation to nuclear confrontation. That danger is real and it is the main reason that President Biden and our allies have said there should be no enforcement of a ‘no-fly zone.’”

Putin on Saturday told flight crew members of Russian national airlines that if any country enforces a “no-fly zone” in Ukraine, he’d consider them “participants in a military conflict.”

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), who was also on the Zelensky video call, said he will join the calls for Ukrainian aid and stronger sanctions against Russia, including an American boycott of Russian oil.

“[Zelensky] made it clear that it’s time for all countries, including the U.S., to cut off Russian oil imports to our nations,” Courtney said in a written statement emailed to Connecticut Public. “He’s right — let’s cut them off.”

Courtney and Blumenthal said Congress should immediately move to allocate $10 billion in humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Courtney said he hopes there will be a “quick vote” next week.

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