Discussing the war in Ukraine with students

Since Russian forces entered Ukraine on 24 February 2022, many of your students will no doubt have been asking searching questions about the crisis: ‘Is this the start of World War III?’, ‘Why did Russia want to invade Ukraine?’, ‘Which countries are part of NATO?’ and ‘Why were there already NATO troops stationed in Eastern Europe?’

This page offers advice to help you address students’ concerns plus information from reliable sources to enable you and your students to answer their questions.

Map of Ukraine 1997 MAGELLAN Geographix

Source: https://www.infoplease.com/atlas/europe/ukraine-map

Note that this map is from 1997 and so shows Crimea as part of Ukraine, before it was annexed by Russia in 2014.

PSHE, tutor time and student wellbeing

There are some questions that no one can answer, but there is a lot that can be done to allay students’ fears by allowing them to voice their concerns. This article from TeacherVision, one of Teachit’s sister sites, offers advice from experienced teachers on how to create a safe space in the classroom for discussing current events: How Are You Talking About the War in Ukraine with Your Students?.

It links to a page of in-depth suggestions for Talking With Children About War and Violence in the World more generally, covering issues such as whether to share your own opinions, tackling prejudice and supporting students who have lost loved ones to war.

As well as the war itself, you could explore the issue of migration as a consequence of war using the Teaching About Refugees page from Teachit’s partner UNHCR.

KS3 or KS4 geography

Infoplease (another Teachit sister site) has short profiles on all the main Ukrainian cities that are being talked about in the news: Kyiv, Lviv, Kharkiv, Donetsk, Chernihiv, Mariupol ... Put students into groups and allocate one city to each student, giving the longer profiles to the more able students. Ask students to summarise the information in a table with the following headings (not all headings will apply to every profile): location, population, date founded, previous name(s), industry, landmarks, historical significance. They can then share their findings with their group and make graphs for ‘population’ and ‘date founded’ to show visually the relative size and age of Ukraine’s major cities.

Students could also create pie charts of languages and/or ethnicity using the Ukraine and Russia country profiles on Fact Monster, another of Teachit’s sister sites. These figures can provide a good jumping-off point for discussion about why Russia felt it had a claim to Ukraine and why it expected to encounter less resistance.

KS4 or KS5 history

The word ‘war’ is often used quite loosely in the media, in expressions such as ‘the war on drugs’ or ‘the war on terror’, but what is the actual definition of ‘war’? This question can make a thought-provoking lesson starter for older students, and TeacherVision offers a complete lesson on What is War? to follow on from it, including an insightful range of definitions and categories in Defining War and Aggression. Students can end by discussing which definition they think applies best to the current conflict in Ukraine.

Another TeacherVision resource to promote discussion amongst A-level students is Perspectives on War, based on What People Say About War – a list of 26 quotations about the nature of war. Some lend themselves particularly well to philosophical reflection on what history can teach us and could be extended into debates – for example, 3. ‘war is a natural condition of man’, 8. ‘It is always immoral to start a war’, 13. ‘There are no warlike peoples – just warlike leaders’ and 16. ‘Men court war to escape meaninglessness and boredom’. The lesson encourages students to think critically about the quotations, to research supporting evidence for the assertions made and to identify emotive language, subtext and bias.

Background information for teachers or students

Infoplease can provide profiles of the two countries’ presidents, Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky, as well as profiles of many former presidents and prime ministers.

It also offers detailed historical background to the current conflict through articles on the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the Yalta Conference in 1945.

Fact Monster’s ‘Families of Countries’ page lists NATO countries and countries of the former USSR.

Infoplease has a list (last updated in 2017) of Countries with Nuclear Weapons Capability; these include Russia but no longer Ukraine.