Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses Congress via video.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses Congress via video. Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite

Observing the murderous destruction of a free nation by a foreign dictator is agony. Pictures and pleas rend our hearts, while such ruinous oppression corrodes dreams of an ever-freer world.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tapped into both emotions Wednesday, addressing Congress via video, when he said the Russians are destroying "our national dreams, just like the same dreams you have, you Americans." The actor-turned-president’s speech channeled the traditional American goal of a peaceful and prosperous planet where freedom triumphs.

And the video he showed, which started as a travelogue of the post-Soviet nation reaching new heights before abruptly switching to graphic images of death and demolition, was devastating.

Wednesday brought a fresh atrocity when the Drama Theater of Mariupol was largely destroyed by a Russian airstrike with the number of casualties yet to be determined. Satellite images show the building, which may have housed 1,000 civilians, had "children" written in Russian in large white letters in two places on the ground outside — a plea for mercy denied.

It’s no surprise President Joe Biden referred to Vladimir Putin as a "war criminal" for the first time Wednesday, hours after he addressed the nation.

The United States and NATO are already helping Ukraine immensely, with sanctions and weapons, food and water, clothing and medicine. Biden’s promise Wednesday of another $1 billion in weapons is needed and appropriate. But Biden, who has done well preserving unity among our allies, is right to be restrained. The U.S. along with NATO should not send in ground forces or establish the no-fly zone Zelenskyy wants because Putin says such moves would be an act of war. Escalation, now, is too dangerous for Ukraine and the world.

That’s particularly true because Putin has increasingly, over the past decade, tried to normalize the idea of a nuclear strike as an acceptable military strategy to immediately back off enemy forces. Even a tactical nuclear strike could easily spur a nuclear war.

This invasion is already beginning to destabilize most of the interconnected economies of the world. Prices of every fossil fuel have soared, supply chains of every variety are threatened, stock and commodity prices are careening up and down. And now a shift to renewable energy feels further off than ever as $100-a-barrel oil renews interest in fossil-fuel extraction.

Meanwhile, international relations are being scrambled by Putin’s moves and the world’s growing fury at the horrors he is visiting on innocents. China is uncertain of its next play, U.S. relations with Iran and Venezuela are in flux, and the world’s food supply — so dependent on wheat from Ukraine and Russia — will be impacted.

Biden is doing his measured best to protect Ukraine, contain the conflict, and keep our allies unified. Now he must listen to what Zelenskyy says Ukraine needs, push for peace, and ignore calls for a military response that could endanger Ukrainians even more.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.