Anyone paying the least bit of attention to the news knows that Ukraine is a mess right now. Protests, riots, buildings ablaze and much bloodshed have been front and center in the nation's capital of Kiev.

A truce agreement meant to quell the violence was signed Friday. Whether it will last is anyone's guess.

As the world's nations convened in athletic competition 875 miles to the southeast in Sochi, Russia, Kiev's Independence Square turned into nothing short of a war zone.

We would venture that outside of the current news reporting most Americans know little about Ukraine and could scarcely point to it on a map.

It may seem like an obscure country "over there" with little or no importance to the United States. But that is both misguided and dead wrong.

Ukraine formed as an independent country in 1991 when the Soviet Union fell and, as much as any, it is a strategic crossroads nation between east and west.

It contains built-in serious regional differences because the west is an amalgam of peoples who were once part of Austria and Hungary, while the populace in the east are primarily Russian speaking.

Although Ukraine became a democratic nation, it still managed to hold on to some Soviet-style politics characterized by graft, corruption and infighting. OK, we have that in Western nations as well, but not nearly on such a lavish scale.

In 2004, the now-famous orange revolution, an essentially peaceful massive public uprising, offered hope that the nation could become an oasis for real democracy on Russia's western border.

But that promise was squandered essentially by the behavior of the leaders of that revolution.

Viktor Yanukovych is Ukraine's current president and he possesses the subtly of a hockey fight. His presidency has featured the persecution of rivals and the muzzling of the media and courts as well as rampant cronyism.

But make no mistake, he is very much under the influence of Russian President Vladimir Putin. You know, the guy without the shirt in the Olympic posters.

Putin has always seen Ukraine as critical to control of the region and regarded the orange revolution as a Western plot to take it away.

This violence was ostensibly over Yanukovych's rejection last November of a proposed trade deal with the European Union in favor of murky Russian one, but that is merely the linchpin.

Putin has provided loans and cheap Russian gas as tools to help Ukraine's struggling economy but has made them dependent on Yanukovych's allegiance.

Many Ukrainians feel the president's unilateral actions are further proof that a corrupt elite has captured their nation. While we remain skeptical, we strongly hope that this latest truce can stop the violence and lead to real democratic reforms.