Sen. Klobuchar holds Minneapolis town hall on Ukraine, Russia tensions

Minnesotans with ties to Ukraine are closely watching events there and in Washington. They heard from Sen. Amy Klobuchar on Sunday, who is pushing for tougher sanctions on Russia in the wake of aggression in the region.

She hosted a town hall meeting at the Ukrainian Center in Minneapolis where the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine joined in via Skype.

Ukrainians are marking the third anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, it was a move western countries called illegal.

Three years later, tensions between Russia and Ukraine continue to flare, particularly in eastern Ukraine, where the government is battling Russian-backed separatists.

“There are really two major challenges right now,” said Amb. Marie Yovanovich. “The first is the war in the east and that is an existential struggle for Ukraine. I can't put it starkly enough.”

Yovanonvich said the other challenge is a need for continued reform of institutions in the country, otherwise it would continue to be vulnerable to Russian interference.

Klobuchar traveled to Ukraine in December to meet with officials and see the problem firsthand.

“I stood there on the front lines with the troops,” she said. “They've lost 10,000 Ukrainians in just the last few years since Russia invaded.”

Klobuchar's office estimates Minnesota has one of the highest Ukrainian populations in the country, at 10,000 people.

“They know if you just say to Russia, ‘Hey go ahead do whatever you want, sanctions off,’ they're going to lose a good chunk of their country,” she said.

Klobuchar is pushing for more sanctions on Russia and an independent commission to investigate alleged Russian interference with the 2016 election, in addition to probes from several government agencies and congressional committees.

“In just the past few months, Ukraine's had 6,500 attempts at hacking into their system by trolls and others in Russia and so, it's no surprise that we also saw it in Lithuania, we saw it in Estonia, and that we've seen in America, it's a modus operandi,” Klobuchar said.

Officials with the Trump administration deny anyone with the campaign had inappropriate contact with Russia before the election.