Ukraine: Lessons for the Classroom
Photo: Oleksandr Ratushniak / UNDP Ukraine
Educators have a unique, yet sad, opportunity to teach history as it happens.
Russia’s attack on Ukraine has caught the intense interest of people around the world. A war that Russia hoped would be quick and easy has stretched into a bloody, tumultuous event during which the Ukrainian people have proved themselves to be stalwart fighters who don’t back down. Both soldiers and civilians have stood their ground, even under extreme and lengthy attacks.
Why did Russia invade Ukraine? Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister of Russia, reportedly wanted to dismantle the Ukrainian government before it could form an alliance with the West and earn protection from other countries against Russian aggression. He told lies about how the Ukrainian government treated its people, accusing it of Nazism and genocide. He used these lies to justify sending troops to take over certain regions of the country.
Part of Russia’s recent strategy was holding a referendum, in which Ukrainians voted whether or not to join Russia. Russia claims the outcome of the referendum is to join the Russian Federation. However, governments around the world say these votes were staged or done under threat. Reports from within Ukrainian borders show Ukrainians believe the vote was a pretense.
Many countries, including the United States, have been supporting Ukraine by providing weapons and other supplies and by issuing economic sanctions on Russia and Russian leaders. Sanctions are when governments refuse to trade with the aggressor. The sanctions are hurting Russia, because the country isn’t able to make as much money and may not get all the things the population needs, such as certain kinds of food and other products.
Are the sanctions working? Russia is certainly struggling, and we’re at the beginning of a long winter. We might see Russian people begin to protest their government even more, which would go a long way in challenging Putin’s insistence that this war is popular and necessary.
But meanwhile, the Ukrainian people are suffering. Children can’t go to school, adults can’t go to work, people are losing their homes, people are dying. Nearly 12.7 million border crossings out of Ukraine have been recorded since the start of the war as people flee their homes in search of safety.
When educators use current events in their classrooms as framework for discussions of history, it can add an extra layer of relevance. Photos, news articles, videos, and interviews with witnesses all add an urgency that hooks learners. And today’s students are the leaders of tomorrow, the ones who might be working to support democracy around the world.
In our books about various wars, we always try to connect contemporary events with the details from the past. Our recent book on World War One is no different. Just before it went to press last spring, we were able to squeeze in a sidebar about the Russian invasion of Ukraine. At this point, the war deserves an entire book—but we’ll wait until we know how it ends.
Read about a dark time in modern history, with research projects and activities designed for holistic learning.