PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Tensions are high in Eastern Europe as the Ukraine-Russia border crisis continues, and a Portland State University professor breaks down how the United States factors into it all.

KOIN 6 News spoke with PSU history professor Chia Yin Hsu to talk about the historical perspective of the on-going conflict and how that impacts the situation today. Here are our questions and her responses:

Editor’s note: Hsu’s responses were lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

Q: What is the history behind Russia in Ukraine?

A: There is a long history of interaction between people who are identified as Ukrainian and the people who are identified as Russian. The people exist, but the idea of a Ukrainian nation and the idea of a Russian country formed much later. It’s a somewhat later idea that emerged in the 19th century. … The first stage of Ukrainian resentment towards the Russian state, as country that calls itself Russia probably emerged more strongly around that time.

Under the Soviet period with the creation of a new socialist government in 1922, when the Soviet Union was formed, there was a country that also formed called the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. That is the first formal state that the Ukrainians establish for themselves, but it’s not entirely independent because it’s part of a larger entity called the Soviet Union. There is a lot of collaboration, cooperation, and a lot of interaction but also moments of conflict and friction.

The Soviet Collectivization campaign in the late 1920s to early 1930s – during which many people died of starvation throughout the entire Soviet Union. Ukraine suffered the most among them. This entered into the memory of Ukrainians as a particularly horrible period. Now, when we see the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, many people conjure up that episode.

Ukraine has always been a smaller part of a larger whole. When you’re part of a smaller part, there are many reasons to be not happy often, because you feel dismissed or condescended.

Q: Why are tensions so high right now in this part of the world?

A: (The North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s) expansion into Eastern Europe. Ukraine’s (possible) membership in the European Union. Ukraine’s (possible) membership in NATO, and what that means for Russia as a country that feels that its sovereignty is being threatened by the United States.

Q: How does the U.S. factor into all of this?

A: This was a relationship between two groups – Russia and Ukraine — that have been historically involved. When the U.S. comes in at that moment is when it involves the expansion of NATO. This is when the Russian Federation at the moment is trying in every way to negotiate with the United States, to say, ‘Don’t go any further than where you are now.’ And Ukraine becomes kind of caught in the middle in this power conflict that involves nuclear weapons.

Q: Why is it important that people in the U.S. pay attention to what’s happening in Eastern Europe?

A: It’s important that we look at what’s going on in other parts of the world, and we think about Eastern Europe right now because this is a potentially dangerous moment for two counties that have very destructive weapons in their possession. … At this moment, we should be thinking about Eastern Europe and NATO because in other places, there kind of proxy wars where the powers are kind of pulling the strings behind the scenes. It’s the people on the ground that have to do the fighting and being left alone to kind of go through the very horrible experience.

But here, now, we are talking about nuclear powers; we have the kind of Cold War tension that we thought was done with but maybe not.