By John Croman
Senator Amy Klobuchar Tuesday got to be in the same room with Tyler Jacobs, a Minnesota man whose safe return from Russian custody was due, in part, to her efforts working through diplomatic channels to secure his release.
Jacobs was working in the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson as a teacher, when the Russian Army invaded that nation from three directions. His wife and child had already evacuated to Turkey and he was hoping to join them March 12 when Russian soldiers pulled him off a bus.
The Russians took him to Simferopol, the capital city of Crimea, and held him for 10 days as his mother, Tina Hauser, frantically tried to figure out where he was and what it would take to free him.
"I definitely don't believe I'd be here if it wasn't for you guys vouching for me. They thought I was a spy," Jacobs told Sen. Klobuchar and Clara Haycraft, her Minnesota deputy director for constituent issues.
Klobuchar replied, "Yes, I remember we had to explain why you were there and what you were doing."
Klobuchar worked contacts she had made on previous trips to Poland and Ukraine, and enlisted the aid of Ambassador John Sullivan, the US ambassador to Russia.
"We knew that Tyler was over there doing good work teaching English, in love and married and everything else, so he had a pretty good story we could share with the embassy."
She said the diplomatic corps had to forcefully argue for Jacobs' release without accidentally making him seem so vital that the Russians would see him as a bargaining chip.
"I raised the issue did we want to get Tyler in the middle of this international argument about war criminals, and he said he thought it was a good idea, so I said, 'Okay!'" Klobuchar said. "I didn’t want to make things worse for him, honestly."
Klobuchar gave much of the credit to Haycraft for working tirelessly on the situation. Jacobs thanked her for taking text messages and emails late at night and into the wee hours.
"I just want to say I’m relieved that Tyler’s home," Haycraft told reporters.
"As a mom, I couldn’t imagine the stress that Tina was under. It was a privilege to be there for her in a really challenging time."
Hauser, who became a familiar face on local news and network TV during the ordeal, was overwhelmed with emotion as she expressed her gratitude.
"I am so indebted to these two women to stand behind us like they did and supported us," Hauser said, looking over at Klobuchar and Haycraft.
"To have him home is the greatest thing a mother could ask for. It's such a relief!"
Jacobs said he knew things were taking a positive turn when his main Russian contact in detention related to him on a human level.
"On Thursday they said, 'We know you are just in a bad situation.' The guy who was talking to me showed me a picture of his 6-month-old baby, so I was like, 'Oh, we're in the clear!'"
After the Russians agreed to let Tyler go, they sent him on a 30-hour train ride from Crimea to Moscow. Eventually he was able to catch a flight and he flew to Istanbul to be reunited with his Ukrainian wife and their daughter. They are safe in Turkey now, awaiting an opportunity to take refuge in the U.S.