By Heather Brown

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — For the past week and half, Ukraine has been all over the airwaves. The eastern European county has become the center of an American political scandal.

So what is the country’s history? And, why is Ukraine so important to the U.S.? Good Questions.

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Ukraine is the second largest country in Europe, behind Russia. Its history dates back centuries, marked by war, famine, invasions and deportations.

“It’s suffered from bad governance and also by domination by Russia and divisions within the country,” says Mary Curtin, diplomat-in-residence at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

Ukraine was part of the former USSR, but it’s been independent of Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. In 2014, Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea, a peninsula on the northern coast of the Black Sea. Since then, there’s been fighting in the eastern part of Ukraine.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky and President Donald Trump (credit: CBS)

“There’s been this undeclared war between Ukraine and Russia,” says Curtin.

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The U.S. has been giving Ukraine financial assistance and military training for years. Curtin believes there are two main reasons Ukraine has been so closely connected with the U.S. The first has to do with geography. Ukraine is situated between the east and west, and the U.S. wants to support a strong democracy there.

“There’s this concept that if Russia can get away with what it’s done in Ukraine, then it poses a threat to our allies who are in NATO,” says Curtin.

The second issue has to do with corruption. Curtin points to a number of Americans who’ve been brought in to Ukrainian companies, like Hunter Biden, the target of President Trump’s unproven accusations, and Paul Manafort, who was sent to prison for financial crimes.

“There is the problem of corruption which has made what could otherwise be an already difficult political situation murkier and invited the controversy we’re seeing right now,” Curtin says.

Curtin says the U.S.’ political problems aren’t what Ukraine needs right now, but rather the country needs to work on its own good governance and good investment. She points out there are several human rights and anti-corruption nonprofit organizations currently working in the country.

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“Hopefully, the United States can be part of the solution, not simply treat Ukraine as part of our domestic political controversies,” she says.

Heather Brown