They will be part of a team representing the Helsinki Commission and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

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WASHINGTON D.C. -- Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman will be part of a team monitoring this weekend's elections in a volatile and sometimes violent state in the Ukraine.

Portman discussed the trip in an exclusive interview with WKYC's Tom Beres

At least 13 Ukrainian troops were killed Thursday morning in an attack on a military checkpoint.

Portman will travel with Maryland Democratic Senator Ben Cardin.

They are leaving Friday. They will be part of a team representing the Helsinki Commission and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Portman and the team will be shuttled to different polling places.

Twenty candidates are running for the country's Presidency.

Ukrainians hope to blunt an attempt by pro-Russian separatists to win independence.

Portman said he wants to help ensure "free and fair elections....I hope the Ukrainian people are given a chance to chart their own future."

Portman said his increasing interest in the Ukraine is largely as a result of concerns expressed by members of the large Ukrainian community in Northeast Ohio.

Some of those members will also serve as election watchdogs.

Portman said it's important to guarantee basic Democratic freedoms in the Ukraine, including freedom of expression and religion.

The region is in turmoil after Russian troops invaded Crimea connecting with pro-Russian Crimeans.

Portman said the Obama administration should be offering more economic and military help to the Ukraine, including stronger economic sanctions against Russia and more military supplies and equipment, but not boots-on-the-ground troops.

After his election-watching in the Ukraine, Portman will go to Poland to visit with U.S. troops who are part of a NATO contingent there.

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