There was a reason why we used the definite article.
When I was younger, we always referred to the country we now call Ukraine as “The Ukraine.” that is because the word “Ukraine” comes from the Slavic word “Ukraina” — which means “borderlands” (the word is the same in both Russian and Polish). So it was never really its own country.
In other words, the place now called Ukraine was always regarded as an outlying territory that formed the buffer between Russia and other states.
Indeed, much of what we now call Ukraine was “owned” by Poland, Austria and Hungary (in the West) and by Russia (in the East). It truly was a “borderland” that separated Russia from Western Europe.
In fact, another name for this place was “Mala Rus” — which means literally “Little Russia”.
Under the Soviet Union, The Ukraine was made into a Soviet Socialist Republic as part of the USSR. Sort of like how the New Mexico Territory became a U.S. State.
Then, the Soviet Union collapsed, and in 1991 — for the FIRST TIME IN HISTORY — the world witnessed the emergence of an independent “Ukraine”. But for Moscow, that place, and those people, were still “Little Russia.”
So you can see why Ukraine is a giant “red line” for Russia, and how no Russian President could ever let Ukraine become part of a hostile military alliance like NATO.
To put it another way:
Imagine New Mexico was somehow granted independence, and the government of the new nation of New Mexico passed laws making the use of English illegal, and suppressing all “anglo” culture, and then started killing the residents there who were not Spanish speakers. Suppose they decided to enter into a mutual defense pact with Russia, and Russia sent all sorts of weapons, military advisors, and other resources to New Mexico. Well, you might well think that the USA would do something to stop that. Such is the situation in Ukraine.
EuroYankee is a dual citizen, US-EU. He travels around Europe, writing on politics, culture and such. He pays his US taxes so he gets to weigh in on what is happening in the States.