Ukraine is Putin's gateway to Europe, Zelensky warns Italian parliament

Zelensky says Ukraine is on "the brink of survival".

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the Italian parliament via videolink on Tuesday, warning lawmakers in Rome that Europe is the ultimate goal of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Zelensky, who received a standing ovation before and after his 12-minute speech, said that Putin's aim is "to have influence and control over your politics, to destroy your values. Ukraine is the gateway to Europe for Russian troops."

The Ukrainian leader said: "Tens of thousands of families have been destroyed. The dead are buried in mass graves, the Russian invasion is destroying our country, our people have become an army."

He accused the invading Russian forces of heinous crimes: "Near Kyiv they torture, they rape and kidnap children, they destroy and they take our possessions away in trucks. The last time something like this was done in Europe it was by the Nazis."

In an effort to bring home his message to the Italian deputies and senators present in the parliament in Rome, Zelensky said the besieged Ukrainian port city of Mariupol is about the same size as Genoa.

"Imagine a Genoa completely burned down after three whole weeks of siege, bombing and shelling that never stops even for a minute" - he said - "Imagine people fleeing your Genoa on foot, in cars, buses, to get to a safer place."

Zelensky called for greater sanctions on Russia including the seizure of property and assets belonging to Russian oligarchs, "from the Scheherazade to the smallest yachts."

He also said that some countries will risk famine as the war disrupts agricultural activity in Ukraine, a major food exporter, and warned of risks to neighbouring countries from Russian mines in the sea around Ukrainian ports.

Recalling his speech via videolink at the recent Florence rally for peace in Ukraine, he said at the time that 79 children had been killed in the war. Since then another 38 have lost their lives, bringing the total number to 117, describing this as "the price of procrastination" on putting pressure on Russia.

Thanking Italy for its help, he said the country now has more than 70,000 Ukrainian war refugees, including more than 25,000 children, "many of whom have been welcomed directly by families."

Zelensky concluded his speech by saying: "The first Ukrainian child was born in Italy to a mother who fled the war, dozens of Ukrainian children with bruises and injuries are in your hospitals and we are very grateful to you. We look forward to when they can return to a peaceful Ukraine."

Following lengthy applause for Zelensky, Italy's prime minister Mario Draghi expressed praise and gratitude to the Ukrainian people for their "heroic resistance", stating that "Ukraine is defending not only itself but also our peace and security".

"Italy does not intend to turn the other way", Draghi said, adding that Europe has shown itself united in the face of Russia "which wanted us to be divided."

The premier stated that Rome has "frozen assets worth €800 million from the oligarchs", before making an important political commitment: "Italy wants Ukraine to join the European Union".

Shortly before addressing the Italian parliament, Zelensky had a telephone conversation with Pope Francis, writing on Twitter that he told the pontiff about the "blocking of rescue corridors by Russian troops".

He also wrote that "the mediating role of the Holy See in ending human suffering would be appreciated" and thanked the pope for his "prayers for Ukraine and peace".

Photo La Stampa