COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — When Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose went to Ukraine to observe their presidential election in 2019, one of the major concerns they had in the country was a foreboding one: Russian interference.

It didn’t happen at the ballot box that year but it now violently has as Russia continues its attack on its neighbor.

“I had the opportunity to go as an election observer, with a group called IRI (International Republican Institute) in coordination with the U.S. Department of State,” LaRose said in an interview with NBC4. “I was there to watch them conduct their primary election as an American election observer to really watch the nuts and bolts of the process, and then, to issue our report on whether it was a fairly conducted election or not.”

“It was a fairly conducted election, and it was the election that ultimately resulted in Volodymyr Zelensky becoming the president of Ukraine, which is a name that all the world has gotten to see now, as he leads the freedom fighters of Ukraine that are literally fighting, as we speak, for the sovereignty of their nation,” he continued.

The Ukraine today under Russian attack is not the Ukraine LaRose said he saw.

“What I saw was a modern country that was focused on human rights and focused on growing their economy and improving their situation,” he said.

LaRose, a combat war veteran, pointed out Ohio’s strong ties to Ukraine with a large number of Ukrainian Americans in the state, second only to Chicago in the Midwest.

“Sometimes when you see footage from a warzone, and I’ve been to several of them, it kind of looks like this two-dimensional or abstract thing,” LaRose said. “I can tell you that the people of Ukraine are very connected with your friends and neighbors in Ohio … for tens of thousands of [our] fellow Ohioans, this isn’t some abstract idea. These are their family members, their friends, people they grew up with.”

“I hope that all Ohioans recognize that the fight that’s going on in Ukraine right now is something very tangible for a lot of their fellow Ohioans.”

Frank LaRose, Ohio Secretary of State

LaRose also praised Zelensky’s leadership of the Ukrainian people.

“In a crisis, you need calm and steady leadership. You need steely resolve. And that is exactly what Volodymyr Zelensky has been exhibiting,” he said. “He has been showing the people of Ukraine that their president is not afraid, and so they should not be afraid. He’s been showing the people of Ukraine that he knows they will win this, and so they know that they will win this.”

LaRose added that there is more the United States can do to help by providing the Ukrainian freedom fighters with more lethal aid and upping sanctions on Russia as well as Belarus.

You can watch the full interview with Secretary LaRose in the video player below.