nytime.com – Articles, maps, photos, videos, podcasts and more, as well as suggestions for using them in your classroom.
Residents salvage their belongings from their homes on March 14 after the shelling of a residential building in Kyiv, Ukraine. Related ArticleCredit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times
By Katherine Schulten, Michael Gonchar and Jeremy Engle
March 16, 2022
Young people all over are avidly following what some have called “the first TikTok war.” In late February, we created a place on our site for teenagers to react to the invasion, and within a week, over 900 had. This comment from Winn Godier, a high school student in North Carolina, echoes what we have heard from many teenagers:
In no way have I ever been someone to obsess over current events or carve out time in my day to watch the news, probably because of the anxiety it is bound to cause me. However, over the past two weeks I have paid more careful attention to current events and the impending “World War III,” watching the news in interest, fear, anger and sadness.
How do you navigate all this with students? In a history class, it might be natural to construct a full unit on Ukraine, but teachers across the curriculum may also want to address questions and emotions about this conflict or teach aspects of it suited to their subject areas. We hope this collection can help.
We’ve sifted through many of the thousands of news items, including articles, Opinion essays, maps, photos, graphics, videos and more, that have appeared on nytimes.com since the invasion began, looking for what we thought might be best suited for classrooms. Because The Learning Network and everything we link to is accessible without a Times digital subscription, teachers clicking on these resources from our site can use them with their students free of charge.
But this is just a starting point. We know educators from all over are addressing this moment in history, and we’d love to add your voices. How are you talking about the Russia-Ukraine war and its implications? Let us know by filling out the form at the very bottom of this post. We hope to post some of your ideas soon.
To use this collection, choose from the categories in the menu below. In each, you’ll find a brief overview; a list of resources; questions your students can think about as they read, watch or listen to; and a short assignment idea you might adopt or adapt.
Places to Start
- Where to Begin, No Matter What You Teach
- Background and Historical Context
- Military Developments
- Zelensky and Putin
- The Global Response and Its Implications
- The Role of China
- The Humanitarian Crisis
- Understanding the Russian Experience
- The Information War: Media Literacy
- War and Literature
- How to Help
- Tell Us How You’re Teaching About This Conflict
Where to Begin, No Matter What You Teach
No matter how much time you’ll spend on this conflict in class, here are a few recommendations and resources for helping your students navigate the news.
Part I. Be mindful of mental health.
In her Opinion essay “How to Avoid Drowning in an Ocean of Information,” Tressie McMillan Cottom captures how many of us — teenagers and adults alike — feel right now:
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made it difficult to focus on anything else. Images of people living below ground to escape missile strikes, families trekking across borders, crying children — they are embedded in my mind. We are rightfully awed by the Ukrainian people’s resolve in the face of an unprovoked attack, a kind of resolve we see people all over the world have shown in the face of violence.
That human spirit is the reason I feel responsible not just for being informed but also for witnessing. It is easy to look away when the conflict feels remote, but bearing witness is the responsibility of being a citizen of a global superpower.
The piece goes on to recommend ways to replace “doomscrolling” with a healthy media diet and suggests a range of sources. A related article from the Well section addresses a similar stew of emotions — fear, anxiety, helplessness, even guilt — and suggests another course of action to loosen the grip: helping someone else.
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Continue reading the main story
You might read either or both of these articles alongside your students, then make a plan. This comic from NPR about how our brains and bodies cope with disturbing news might make a good warm-up. (And to prepare yourself for the conversation, read “How to Talk to Kids About Ukraine.” Though the article is aimed at parents, it provides tips that will be useful to educators, too.)
Part II: Help your students be aware of misinformation.
If the Russia-Ukraine conflict is the world’s first TikTok war, then your students may be unwittingly taking in a lot of mis- and disinformation. This article, “TikTok Is Gripped by the Violence and Misinformation of Ukraine War,” might be a useful starting point for raising the topic with them, perhaps after first asking students to share some of what they know — or think they know — about the war from their social media feeds.
To go further, we have many resources below, in our “Information War” section.
Part III: Recommend a variety of reliable news sources.
To follow the most recent developments — and to find graphics, maps, photos and summaries of the news — visit this landing page: “The Russia-Ukraine War.” Since that resource and most of the others we share in this roundup come from The New York Times, you or your students may also be interested in “How We Verify Our Reporting on the Ukraine War.”
If your students would prefer a daily Times digest of the most important news, the free Russia-Ukraine War Briefing newsletter is delivered to email inboxes each evening.
But we also encourage students to get their news from a variety of reliable global outlets and platforms beyond The Times. This list from Nieman Lab, which includes Ukrainian sources like The Kyiv Independent, is a good starting point.
This collection also contains a number of Times Opinion pieces, and we have marked them as such throughout. But a “balanced media diet” is just as important for the opinion pieces your students consume as it is for their news. Encourage them to choose pieces from across the political spectrum and from around the world.
Part IV: Try one simple classroom assignment.
Your students are witnessing history. Even if your curriculum doesn’t allow you to spend days discussing what they are seeing, the war is on their minds. To help them slow the onslaught of information, react thoughtfully and process the news, you might adapt an assignment as simple as this one, which can be done at any point and about any aspect of the crisis:
Ask students to choose one artifact from the stream of news and opinion about this conflict that stands out to them for any reason. This can be a full article, podcast or video, or it could be something smaller — a photo, fact, map, quote, graphic, statistic, social media post or even a joke. Invite them to write about why it got their attention. As they do, they can analyze the artifact and what it means; explore how it affects them emotionally; connect it to their own lives; list the questions it raises for them; or link it to other things they have read, seen or listened to, whether in or outside of school. (To take this even further, see the exercise in the “Information War” section below that walks students through assessing the reliability of their artifact.)
Then, invite students to share what they have chosen in pairs, groups or with the whole class. Finally, invite them to talk together about how they are making sense of all this news. How is it affecting them emotionally? How is it changing their understanding of the world? What big questions does it raise for them — and how are they seeking answers to those questions?
Background and Historical Context
Early on the morning of Feb. 24 in Ukraine, Russian troops poured over the border, and Russian planes and missile launchers attacked Ukrainian cities and airports. Why did Russia attack? What are the roots of this conflict? Why is Ukraine so important — to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, to Europe, to the United States and to the world?
Part I. Start with our lesson plan.
In this lesson plan, published just after the invasion, we use a range of Times resources, including articles, videos, maps, photos and podcasts, to help students answer these questions and understand what is at stake.
To augment what we offer in that piece, here are four more resources that can help students consider the big picture by placing this conflict in the context of political history:
- The video embedded above, from Vox, which is part of this piece tracing the history of the conflict.
- The War in Ukraine Holds a Warning for the World Order (Article): “The liberal world order has been on life support for a while,” begins this News Analysis. The article can help students think about the war through the following lens:
Ukraine is being viewed as a test for the survival of a 75-year-old idea: that liberal democracy, American military might and free trade can create the conditions for peace and global prosperity.
- Putin vs. Democracy (The Morning Newsletter): This explainer can walk students through how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine fits into the broader geopolitical trends of the past decade and a half — a time when democracy has been on the decline worldwide.
- What Is NATO and Which Countries Are Members? (Article): This article presents a series of questions and answers about the alliance and why it is rejecting no-fly zones in Ukraine.
Part II: Encourage students to make historical connections as they follow the news.
Now that they understand the roots of this war, challenge your students to make explicit connections as they keep up with daily developments. How is having background on the political, geographic, economic and cultural history of this region key to understanding what happens? To show their understanding visually, they might choose some small aspect of this conflict and create a one-pager that links the present and the past — via illustrations, quotes or factual details, graphs or anything else that can make the roots or commonalities visible.
The largest mobilization of forces Europe has seen since 1945 is now underway, with Ukrainian soldiers and civilian resistance fighters battling to fend off a Russian assault on multiple fronts.
Part I: Study the maps.
The Times is maintaining a regularly updated page with maps tracking the Russian invasion of Ukraine. By scrolling down the page, students can analyze maps of the Russian push toward Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital; the Russian offensive in Ukraine’s south along the Black Sea coast; and the extent of Russia’s aerial bombardment of Ukraine.
What do you notice about the military progress in the war so far? What do you think the maps show about what might happen in the future?
Part II: Analyze Russian and Ukrainian military strategy and progress.
Since the launch of Russia’s full-scale invasion on Feb. 24, Moscow has been denied the swift victory it anticipated and has failed to capture major cities across the country, including Kyiv, the capital. It has been weighed down by an ill-prepared military and has faced tenacious resistance from Ukrainian soldiers and civilian fighters.
To the surprise of many military analysts, Ukrainian troops are mounting a stiffer-than-expected resistance to Russian forces up and down battle lines across Ukraine — a country the size of Texas — fighting with a resourcefulness and creativity that U.S. analysts said could trip up Russian troops for weeks or months.
The Times has been reporting on daily military developments in the war here and here, and the following list of resources provides high-level analysis as well as coverage of significant military events and unexpected outcomes. Choose one or more of these resources to read or listen to, and take notes on significant developments, major revelations, lessons or unexpected outcomes.
- How Ukraine’s Military Has Resisted Russia So Far (Article)
- Why Russia Hasn’t Defeated Ukraine (The Daily Podcast)
- Battlefield reports are murky, but signs of Ukraine’s successes emerge. (Article)
- As Russia’s Military Stumbles, Its Adversaries Take Note (Article)
- Over Ukraine, Lumbering Turkish-Made Drones Are an Ominous Sign for Russia (Article)
- Russia Deploys a Mystery Munition in Ukraine (Article)
Part III: Prepare an advisory report about five important military developments during the war so far.
Imagine you were tasked by your country’s advisers to report back about what the Russia-Ukraine war has revealed about the Russian and Ukrainian militaries and modern warfare. What developments would you include on your list? What information do you think might be most important for your country’s military to know about this 21st-century war? Why? What predictions would your report make?
Zelensky and Putin
0:33CreditCredit…Ukrainian Presidential Office via Associated Press
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia made the decision to invade Ukraine. President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine made the decision to stay in Kyiv and resist the Russian onslaught. Who are these two political leaders, what does they each want, and how are they both central to this war?
Part I: Who is President Zelensky?
Before Russia invaded Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky was often derided as a comic turned unlikely politician. But with the help of social media, he has become the leader Ukraine did not know it needed.
Dressed in an army-green T-shirt or fleece, unshaven and wan, Mr. Zelensky has inspired Ukrainians to fight for their country — and Europeans to see Ukraine in a different light, as a victim of aggression fighting bravely for independence, freedom and democracy.
To learn more about the Ukrainian president, read the following articles and Opinion pieces or listen to The Daily. While you read, take notes on what is motivating Mr. Zelensky and what decisions he has made so far that attempt to further his goals.
- Why Zelensky Poses a Unique Threat to Putin (The Daily Podcast)
- How Volodymyr Zelensky rallied Ukrainians, and the world, against Putin. (Article)
- ‘I Want Peace.’ Zelensky’s Heroic Resistance Is an Example for the World (Opinion)
- An Unlikely Hero (The Morning Newsletter)
Part II: Who is President Putin?
For most of his 22-year rule, Vladimir V. Putin presented an aura of calm determination at home — of an ability to astutely manage risk to navigate the world’s biggest country through treacherous shoals. His attack on Ukraine negated that image and revealed him as an altogether different leader: one dragging the nuclear superpower he helms into a war with no foreseeable conclusion, one that by all appearances will end Russia’s attempts over its three post-Soviet decades to find a place in a peaceful world order.
To learn more about Mr. Putin and his rationale for invading Ukraine, read or listen to the following. While you read, take notes on what is motivating Mr. Putin and what decisions he has made so far to further his goals.
‘A Knife to the Throat’: Putin’s Logic for Invading Ukraine (The Daily Podcast)
Piece by Piece, Russia’s Rationale for a Ukraine Invasion Is Put in Place (Article)
Putin Has No Good Way Out, and That Really Scares Me (Opinion)
Putin Seems to Sideline Advisers on Ukraine, Taking a Political Risk (Article)
Vladimir Putin: Crafty Strategist or Aggrieved and Reckless Leader? (News Analysis)
This Is Why Putin Can’t Back Down (Opinion)
How Vladimir Putin Lost Interest in the Present (Opinion)
Part III: Choose one of these two leaders, and write him a letter.
Imagine you had the ability to send a letter to either President Zelensky or President Putin that they would read and perhaps even act upon. What would you say? Where would it be especially important to choose your words carefully? What details would you include in your letter, and what might you leave out? Would you include suggestions, requests, pleas or even demands? What tone would you use?
Write the piece, then annotate it to explain your choices. Then, exchange letters with someone who wrote to the same person. How similar are your two letters? Why? What did you learn from your partner’s approach?
The Global Response and Its Implications
After Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, the world responded with an avalanche of dramatic moves, unfolding in ministries and boardrooms from Washington to London and Brussels to Berlin. In “How the West Marshaled a Stunning Show of Unity Against Russia,” The Times offers a summary of how, in a few frantic days, “the West threw out the playbook it used for decades against the Kremlin and isolated Russia with unparalleled sanctions and penalties.”
Part I. What measures have been taken so far, and what have been their effects?
To begin, teachers might share just the quote above with students and ask them to list all of the sanctions and penalties they know about. Then, ask them what they know about how well those measures have worked so far. How have they affected ordinary Russians?
Among the sanctions and penalties students might mention:
Thirty countries closed their airspace to Russian planes; Eurovision, FIFA and the Paralympic Games have barred Russians from participating in this year’s competitions; Germany discarded six decades of military-averse policy to increase its spending and send Ukraine weapons; technology companies like Apple halted sales in Russia, and Google pulled Russian media off their networks. McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Starbucks and other companies paused operations and halted sales in Russia. The European Union banned Russia’s central bank, which holds Mr. Putin’s war chest, from selling any assets to European banks; Switzerland set aside a deeply rooted tradition of neutrality to freeze Russian assets. The United States announced it would ban imports of Russian oil, gas and coal on March 8. Two days later, Congress approved $13.6 billion in emergency aid for Ukraine as it battled Russia’s invasion. President Biden has also joined with the Group of 7 and the European Union in calling for the suspension of normal trade relations with Russia to further isolate it from the global economy.
Some of the effects of these measures:
Western sanctions have “far exceeded” Moscow’s expectations, The Times’s Max Fisher explains. Russia’s currency has lost about 40 percent of its value in a month and the country may default on its foreign debt payments. Sanctions have isolated Russian citizens from travel and many consumer goods. Russian officials are sufficiently fearful of the effect on stock prices that they halted trading on Moscow’s stock market on Feb. 25 and have not yet resumed it. The falling currency and stock prices also seem to be causing anxiety among many Russians. In some cities, customers have lined up at A.T.M.s, fearful that cash will run out. “Such economic instability could stoke popular unhappiness and even unrest,” The Times writes. In response to these unprecedented moves, the Kremlin accused the United States of waging an “economic war,” and Putin warned that sanctions imposed by the West were “akin to a declaration of war.” Putin has also suggested that he might nationalize the assets of Western companies that pull out of Russia.
Part II. Are these enough? If you were advising President Biden or other world leaders, what would you recommend?
Next, you might ask your students for their initial responses to one or more of these questions: What do you think of the world’s response to the Russian invasion? Do the measures go far enough? Or do they go too far — risking a wider conflict or retaliation by the Kremlin? Are these punishing sanctions the right move? Do they punish ordinary Russians? Will they make Putin change course? Foment unrest in his country? Should the world do more — like establishing a “no-fly zone”? Or less — instead focusing on challenges at home? Will the world be able to maintain unity, or will cracks emerge if the war drags on and gas prices keep rising, inflation spikes, or other unforeseen developments arise?
Then, put students into small groups and give them the following challenge: If you were advising President Biden, what would you recommend as the appropriate response to the invasion? Why? (Depending on what you teach and how you’d like to structure this, you could substitute or include other world leaders, or global institutions like the E.U., the U.N. or NATO.)
To help students formulate their recommendations, consider the following questions:
- What strategic and moral principles would guide your thinking and advice? For example, how might you balance a desire to protect, defend or intervene on behalf of Ukraine with concerns that such efforts might provoke or escalate a broader war with Russia?
- How might you distinguish between sanctions that would affect Russia’s leadership or its powerful oligarchs and measures that might punish ordinary citizens? How would you balance the moral imperatives for action with a country’s own economic or political interests? For example, curbing the importation of oil might raise gas prices, causing political backlash from your own citizens.
- What more could be done? Should allies do more to arm Ukraine? Establish no-fly zones? Enact a full financial embargo? Why or why not?
Here are a few pieces that might help students think through their answers:
- How Should the World Respond to Russia’s Assault on Ukraine? (Debatable Newsletter)
- Should We Really Be Culturally Canceling Russia? (Debatable Newsletter)
- Boycotts, Not Bombs: Sanctions Are a Go-To Tactic, With Uneven Results (Interactive)
- ‘This Is About the Future of Freedom’: What Does America Owe Ukrainians? (The Argument podcast)
- Europe Awakens (Morning Newsletter)
- Will Banning Russian Oil Hurt Russia, or the U.S.? (The Daily podcast)
- The Price of Putin’s Belligerence (Opinion)
- The Cancellation of Mother Russia Is Underway (Opinion)
- Biden Must Not Allow Ukraine to Fall (Opinion)
- How to Stop a Nuclear War (Opinion)
The Role of China
On Feb. 4, as the Winter Olympics were set to open, China’s leader, Xi Jinping, and Mr. Putin vowed that their countries’ friendship had “no limits.” The Chinese leader also declared that there would be “no wavering” in their partnership, and he added his weight to Mr. Putin’s accusations of Western betrayal in Europe.
Now it appears that Mr. Xi’s display of solidarity may have, possibly unwittingly, emboldened Mr. Putin to gamble on going to war to bring Ukraine to heel.
A review of Beijing’s trail of decisions shows how Mr. Xi’s deep investment in a personal bond with Mr. Putin has limited China’s options and forced it into policy contortions.
The implications for China extend beyond Ukraine, and even Europe.
Mr. Xi’s warm embrace of Mr. Putin only weeks ago advertised their ambitions to build what they called a fairer, more stable global order — one in which the United States is a smaller presence. Instead, their summit was followed by the kind of reckless, unilateral military intervention in an independent state that China has long denounced.
David Leonhardt writes, “The war is arguably the most problematic international development for China in years.”
Part I: Learn about how China has responded to the war so far, and what is motivating its decision making.
Individually or in small groups, students can choose from among the following recent news articles and Opinion pieces. As they read, they should take notes on what is motivating China’s decision making with regard to Russia and Ukraine. To help, they might make a list using the sentence starter “China wants …”.
- ‘No Wavering’: After Turning to Putin, Xi Faces Hard Wartime Choices for China (Article)
- China’s Russia Problem (The Morning Newsletter)
- China Sees at Least One Winner Emerging From Ukraine War: China (Article)
- How China Embraces Russian Propaganda and Its Version of the War (Article)
- China Asked Russia to Delay Ukraine War Until After Olympics, U.S. Officials Say (Article)
- Before Ukraine Invasion, Russia and China Cemented Economic Ties (Article)
- Why the Chinese Internet Is Cheering Russia’s Invasion (Article)
- The Cancellation of Mother Russia Is Underway (Opinion)
- Russia Asked China for Military and Economic Aid for Ukraine War, U.S. Officials Say (Article)
- It’s Time to Offer Russia an Offramp. China Can Help With That. (Opinion)
Part II: Predict China’s path based on its perceived national interests.
After students have read one or more of the above articles, and made their list of factors motivating China’s leadership, they can decide which of the following five outcomes seem most likely for China in the short and long term. For each outcome students select, they should explain why China is likely to choose that path based on its own national interests.
- China supports Russia and its invasion of Ukraine through military and economic aid.
- China supports Russia and its invasion of Ukraine through state media and official statements.
- China actively supports mediation and brokering a cease-fire between Russia and Ukraine.
- China condemns the invasion and calls on Russia to end the war.
- China joins Europe and the United States in imposing economic sanctions against Russia.
The Humanitarian Crisis
2:59‘We Have No Choice’: Mothers in Ukraine Flee to PolandAt a station in Western Ukraine, mothers and their children boarded evacuation trains to Poland, while many of their husbands stayed to defend the country from advancing Russian forces.CreditCredit…Michael Downey for The New York Times
Another great migration is underway.
At least two and a half million Ukrainians have fled Russia’s merciless bombardment to countries across Europe, while roughly another two million have been internally displaced within Ukraine. It is a tragic upheaval: families have been split apart, homes abandoned, lives upended. What’s happening is a horror, a human travesty.
Yet the situation, however bleak, is not without precedents.
So begins an Opinion essay by Peter Gatrell, a historian of modern migration, describing the fastest displacement of people in Europe since World War II, and one of the biggest humanitarian crises in recent memory.
But some Ukrainians have stayed behind. Most older adults, who have experienced war in their country before, have decided to stick it out, while some younger people have chosen to take up arms. Others have no choice: A recently imposed martial law prohibits men aged 18 to 60 from leaving the country.
As some stay and others leave for neighboring countries, families have had to say goodbye to one another, not knowing when, or if, they will see each other again.
Part I. React to photos and graphs.
Since Feb. 24, photographers and videographers in and around Ukraine have been capturing a populace struggling with uncertainty and fear, and showing resolve, in the face of an invasion. You can find them in the collection “On the Ground: Ukraine Under Attack.” (Please note: Many of the images are graphic.)
Invite your students to scroll through and find an image that stands out for them, perhaps because it shows them something they did not know or understand before.
When they are finished, you might introduce the interactive “How to Think About the Ukrainian Refugee Crisis, in Maps and Charts.” What do they notice? What do they wonder?
Part II. Jigsaw to learn more about what life is like for Ukrainians.
Now invite students to learn more about everyday life for Ukrainians during this conflict, both those still in Ukraine and those living as refugees. You might conduct this activity as a jigsaw and have students share what they learned with one another. Below, a starting list. Please note that some of these resources include graphic depictions of violence.
- ‘There Will Be a Battle’: A Family Prepares for War in Kyiv (Video)
- No Internet, No Electricity: Life Under Siege in Mariupol (Video)
- On the Road With Ukraine’s Refugees (“The Daily” Podcast)
- On the Exodus West, Ukrainians Flee Hardship for an Uncertain Future (Article)
- ‘Falling Into Emptiness’: Ukrainian Families Feel the Pain of Separation (Article)
- ‘We Have No Choice’: Mothers in Ukraine Flee to Poland (Video)
- Ukrainians Flee From Kyiv Suburbs (Video)
- Foreign Students Share Stories of Mistreatment While Fleeing Ukraine (Video)
- Two Refugees, Both on Poland’s Border. But Worlds Apart. (Article)
- For Young Ukrainians, Independence Is Not Optional (Interactive)
As they read, view and listen to these resources, students might consider the following questions:
- What did you learn about life inside Ukraine right now? About life as a refugee?
- Why did some decide to stay while others decided to leave — if they had a choice at all?
- How does the treatment of Ukrainian refugees compare with the way refugees from other recent and historical global crises have been treated? What social, cultural and political influences may be at play?
Part III. Debate: How should your country respond to this humanitarian crisis?
Invite students to discuss or debate: How should their own country respond to this humanitarian crisis?
So far, Europe has opened its doors to Ukrainian refugees and the European Union has agreed to let most Ukrainians live, work and study across the bloc for up to three years. This Opinion essay argues that “world leaders must put comprehensive, durable protections in place for Ukrainian refugees.” Do your students agree? What should these protections look like? What responsibility does the rest of the world have for caring for the victims of war and persecution? Should these same protections be extended to Russians seeking to escape?
Understanding the Russian Experience
Listen to ‘The Daily’: How Russians See the War in Ukraine
As well as a military campaign, Moscow is also waging a battle over the truth.
Listen to ‘The Daily’: How Russians See the War in Ukraine
As well as a military campaign, Moscow is also waging a battle over the truth.
From The New York Times, I’m Sabrina Tavernise. This is The Daily.
As Russia steps up its bombing campaign against Ukrainian cities, it’s also waging another battle— over the truth about the war. My colleague, Valerie Hopkins, on why so many people in Russia are in denial about what is happening, even as it wrecks the lives of their own family members in Ukraine.
It’s Monday, March 14.
Valerie, you’ve been reporting on the war in Ukraine since the beginning. And you’ve been hearing stories, again and again, of this pretty shocking misinformation campaign coming from Russia. Can you describe what you’ve been hearing and seeing?Valerie Hopkins
You know, I’ve been talking to a lot of people here in Ukraine, first when I was in Kyiv, and then on the road. And a lot of them have pretty shocking stories about their relatives in Russia. You know, Ukraine and Russia are really well connected. Millions of Ukrainians have relatives in Russia. Some of them used to live there.
But now, as some of Ukraine’s cities are being bombed, as millions of people are being forced to flee, people are trying to tell their relatives in Russia what’s going on, and they’re being met with denial, resistance, and kind of a refusal to believe what their family members, their blood relatives are telling them. And one person whose story really stuck out to me was this guy, Misha Katsurin.Misha Katsurin
Hey, Valerie.Valerie Hopkins
Oh, hi, yes. Thank you.Misha Katsurin
Can you hear me?Valerie Hopkins
Misha is 33 years old. He lives with his wife and kids in Kyiv, and actually owns a really trendy chain of Asian restaurants.Misha Katsurin
Right now, of course, all my restaurants are closed.Valerie Hopkins
And he said, the fourth morning of the war—Misha Katsurin
I realized that father still didn’t call me, like any time.Valerie Hopkins
He woke up and realized that he hadn’t heard from his dad at all since the war started.Misha Katsurin
And I thought maybe he doesn’t know what’s going on here.Valerie Hopkins
His father lives in Russia in a city called Nizhny Novgorod.Misha Katsurin
So I called him, because that was strange. There is a war, I’m his son, and he doesn’t call me.Valerie Hopkins
So he gave his dad a call and told them what was going on.Misha Katsurin
I tried to tell him how it is going here in Kyiv with my family, that Russia started bombing us, that Russia started their invasion, and that I am trying to evacuate my children, my wife, my family. Everything is extremely scary, and that’s a real war.Valerie Hopkins
But he said his father had a really different version of events and didn’t really believe him.Misha Katsurin
And he started to interrupt me. He said, no, no, no, no, stop. Everything is like this. And he started to tell me how the things in my country are going on.Valerie Hopkins
He said his father basically said, no, no, no, and that he denied what Misha was telling him that he sees with his own eyes.Misha Katsurin
So he told me that, look, everything is going like this. So they’re Nazis. They took the government— the Nazis, the Ukrainian Nazis. And they now control your country, and—Valerie Hopkins
And anyways, he said, the government there, they’re all Nazis.Sabrina Tavernise
So Valerie, I’m going to stop for a second on this Nazi reference, because it keeps coming up. This is an idea that Russian President Vladimir Putin has often repeated, right? But why is he doing that?Valerie Hopkins
I mean, it doesn’t really make sense. But for Putin, it’s this weird multi-layered argument. He is trying to piggyback on the proud legacy of the Soviet defeat of the Nazis in World War II, and he also cannot really deal with the fact that Ukraine wants to have a separate country and a separate identity from Russia 30 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union.Sabrina Tavernise
And Putin sort of sees this Ukrainian rejection of Russia, which has only gotten stronger since Russia invaded Crimea, and now gotten even stronger— he sees all of this as nationalism. And that nationalism, he kind of immediately starts to equate with Nazism, in order to get support for this invasion.Sabrina Tavernise
So essentially, when he says this, he’s trying to paint Ukrainians as crazy nationalists.Valerie Hopkins
Yeah. And I mean, he’s actually used those words to refer to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who’s actually Jewish and also a native Russian speaker. And President Putin has referred to him and the people around him as, quote, “drug-addled Nazis,” on Russian TV, even though this is just a completely outlandish, intentional distortion of the truth.Sabrina Tavernise
So Misha’s dad is getting this idea from Putin’s messaging, which is carried by Russian television. What else did Misha’s dad say that he believes about the war in Ukraine?Valerie Hopkins
Well, he certainly doesn’t think a full-scale war is actually happening.Misha Katsurin
He told me that there are some soldiers. They’re helping people. They give them warm clothes and food.Valerie Hopkins
Misha’s dad thinks it’s essentially a rescue operation conducted by the Russian military.Misha Katsurin
And now, they’ll try to save you. They will not hit civilian people. They will hit some military objects and try to save you.Valerie Hopkins
And not only that. He believes that Russian soldiers are liberating Ukrainians from this repressive Nazi government, and that the majority of the people want them there.Misha Katsurin
I told him, Father, look, I am here right now, and I see it with my eyes. So look how it’s going on in reality.Sabrina Tavernise
So it’s pretty unbelievable that a father is denying his own son’s reality. But how pervasive is this? Is this most Russians’ view of the war right now?Valerie Hopkins
So we actually have seen some pretty significant street protests in Russia, mostly in large cities, since the invasion started— actually, more than in Russia’s recent history. These people are out in the streets chanting, no to war, even though they know that they’ll likely be taken away by the police and detained.
But we’ve also seen reports from Russian cities, including one done by this independent media outlet, Nastoyashcheye Vremya, or Current Time, which went out and spoke to Russian citizens and showed them pictures of the war in Ukraine.Speaker
[SPEAKING RUSSIAN]Valerie Hopkins
And their responses were—Speaker
[SPEAKING RUSSIAN]Valerie Hopkins
“No, that’s not happening. These photos are fake.”Speaker
[SPEAKING RUSSIAN]Valerie Hopkins
“Ukraine was preparing for an attack on Russia. I’m absolutely convinced of that.” And—Speaker
[SPEAKING RUSSIAN]Valerie Hopkins
And “I’m for Putin.” They’re essentially repeating what they’ve been hearing from Putin and from talk show hosts on state TV. So you know, it’s really hard to get an accurate picture of public sentiment in Russia.
For a pollster now, just asking that question could land them in jail or shut their organization down. But what this video and what my reporting suggests is that this essential, complete denial of what’s happening in Ukraine is actually pretty common in Russia.Sabrina Tavernise
Valerie, what did you think as you were watching these man-on-the-street interviews? What was going through your mind?Valerie Hopkins
I was really sad, but I guess I wasn’t so surprised. I mean, this is the product of years and years of clamping down on free press and increasingly escalating rhetoric in media, demonizing the other, and slowly building the case for something exactly like this.
I think I was most shocked, actually, when there was a guy who literally looked into the camera, looked at the photos, and said, Russia’s not bombing Kyiv. It’s like this alternate reality for so many people. And it’s fascinating for me to try and understand why and how that can be.Sabrina Tavernise
We’ll be right back.
So Valerie, we’re talking about Russians who don’t believe what’s happening to their own relatives, who don’t believe and don’t want to look at these photographs of bombings in Ukrainian cities. And I think that this leads us to the question of why. What do you think it has to do with?Valerie Hopkins
Well, I think it has a lot to do with Vladimir Putin and Russians’ relationship to him. Putin came to power at this really critical time for Russia— in 2000, a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union. And in the intervening period, there was just this total economic upheaval.
You know, people knew what to expect in the Soviet period, even if they didn’t love it. And now, there was just this period of total uncertainty.Archived Recording
Anger is building in Russia among people with nothing else to lose. They face a winter of empty bellies, infrequent heating, and nothing to hope for but spring.Valerie Hopkins
Prices skyrocketed, and people just couldn’t afford basic necessities.Archived Recording
For the fifth day in a row, panicky Russians tried to withdraw their savings from banks while the country’s financial system appeared to teeter on the brink of collapse.Valerie Hopkins
Half of the economy disappeared.Archived Recording
These Arctic coal miners took the mine director hostage after enduring more than six months without pay.Valerie Hopkins
People were living in lawlessness.Archived Recording
One local leader accusing Moscow politicians of behaving in a way that humiliates the Russian people.Valerie Hopkins
There was a lack of trust in the government.Archived Recording
And many people, they don’t believe in the ideals which existed in the former Soviet Union, and the new ideals hadn’t been invented for them.Valerie Hopkins
And there was also this really major loss of national pride that I think a lot of people discount.Archived Recording
They don’t believe in their future. They don’t—Valerie Hopkins
So I think that many people, especially in the West, saw this moment as Russia’s chance to create democratic institutions.Archived Recording
To live in Moscow today is to watch the soul of a city die.Valerie Hopkins
But many Russians associated this period in the ‘90s with instability, economic fear, and this rampant capitalism that didn’t really help them.Sabrina Tavernise
Right. I remember that time, because I was there then. I started in 1994 in Russia, and I remember we saw the collapse of the Soviet Union as a chance to be free, a wonderful thing. And I think that by the end of the 1990s, many Russians had experienced it as a tragedy.Valerie Hopkins
Yeah, I think we have to recognize that that wasn’t people’s priority back then. It was putting food on the table, and not getting mugged by hooligans in the street, and being able to trust the police and the law enforcement and the institutions again. And through all of this, the personal and national shame and difficulty—Archived Recording
In Russia today, the clear winner of the Russian presidential election, Vladimir Putin, began to establish the Putin era.Valerie Hopkins
Into that situation walks Vladimir V. Putin.Archived Recording (Vladimir Putin)
[SPEAKING RUSSIAN]Archived Recording
Vladimir Putin, the career spy, talks about establishing what he calls a dictatorship of the law. Fight corrupt bureaucrats and strengthen the central government.Valerie Hopkins
Promising to take control and just promising stability, which is what people craved the most.Archived Recording
15 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, Moscow is now a 24-hour town.Valerie Hopkins
The economy started to stabilize and a middle class actually emerged that was substantially better off in the years after Putin came to power.Archived Recording
The streets pulse with the big money that was once considered a capitalist abomination. It’s largely opportunistic wealth that Russia has enjoyed since the country’s oil started selling on global markets for $45 a barrel.Valerie Hopkins
He got massively lucky with oil prices, and that sort of allowed the standard of living to rise and cemented the trust that many ordinary Russians were living better under Putin than they ever had before.Archived Recording
President Putin today criticized the way many private businessmen, known as oligarchs, had bought state properties at bargain prices after the breakup of the Soviet Union—Valerie Hopkins
And sent inequality soaring.Archived Recording (Vladimir Putin)
[SPEAKING RUSSIAN]Archived Recording (Interpreter)
You know very well what privatization was like in the early 1990s. At that time, some market participants got multibillion-dollar state assets using different tricks—Valerie Hopkins
And Putin continues to exert ever more control over Russian society.Archived Recording
—deny that the Kremlin controls the most powerful news broadcasts on the three main television networks.Valerie Hopkins
He starts to bring the national media to heel, to make sure that things that he doesn’t like or criticism of him don’t appear in the media.Archived Recording
Russia’s only independent media owner was formally charged today with embezzling state funds. His media outlets are known for criticizing the government.Valerie Hopkins
And while some people were concerned, more or less, from the beginning of his rise, the majority of the people really accepted it.Archived Recording
Vladimir Putin is popular at home because of the economy based on energy.
—Vladimir Putin remains easily the most popular politician across this vast country.Sabrina Tavernise
Right. I mean, this is the social contract that Putin made. He said to the Russian people, I’m going to bring you order. I’m going to crack down on the oligarchs. I’m going to make it so that your life is stable, your salary is reliable. But at the same time, you’re not going to mess with politics, and you’re going to be OK with a media that is not free.Valerie Hopkins
Exactly. And while Putin largely consolidated his power over the last two decades, he did leave some pockets— mostly online media, some radio— spaces where people who didn’t support the government, who were free-thinking and independent-minded could air their views and hear people who mostly thought like them. You know, it wasn’t mainstream national news on the airwaves, but you could find it if you looked for it.Sabrina Tavernise
So bring us up to the war, Valerie. I mean, if Putin has been doing this for years, chipping away at independent media, what’s different now?Valerie Hopkins
Well, now, it’s not chipping anymore. It’s a sledgehammer.
He’s been trying very hard to control the narrative around the war—Archived Recording (Vladimir Putin)
[SPEAKING RUSSIAN]Valerie Hopkins
—which he refers to only as a, quote, “special military operation.”Archived Recording
That’s why most Russians don’t know what’s really happening in Ukraine. The Kremlin today—Valerie Hopkins
And most of the official communications about it don’t even mention the Russian military.Archived Recording
The state censorship office has now blocked the BBC Russian language service. That is a huge source of independent news here.Valerie Hopkins
The state orders some of the few remaining independent media in Russia to stop broadcasting, including the BBC’s Russian service, and the German broadcaster, Deutsche Welle. And then, it bans Facebook, and on the same day—Archived Recording
[SPEAKING RUSSIAN]Valerie Hopkins
—the lower house of parliament, the State Duma, approves a law forbidding the invasion from being referred to as anything besides a special military operation.Archived Recording
Simply calling it a war or an invasion, instead of a special military operation, can lead to up to 15 years behind bars.Valerie Hopkins
And it essentially criminalizes independent reporting on the war.Archived Recording
Staff at one of Russia’s most prominent independent television stations have resigned, live on air.Valerie Hopkins
And because of this law, the few remaining media outlets left in Russia are being forced to make really hard decisions.Speaker
Vladimir Putin and the authorities, they just don’t want free media. This voice of truth must be destroyed.Valerie Hopkins
Which means that right now, there’s only one version of events that Russians are seeing in their country— Putin’s.Sabrina Tavernise
This is a fundamentally different level of censorship. It’s something we haven’t seen since Soviet times.Valerie Hopkins
That’s right, Sabrina. And while it’s not clear just how long Putin can sustain his attempts to seal off Russians’ access to information about the war, for now, he’s been able to dramatically shape their beliefs.Misha Katsurin
I’m not angry about my father. I’m angry about Kremlin. I’m angry about the Russian propaganda. I’m not angry about these people. I understand that I cannot blame them in this situation.Valerie Hopkins
And that’s forced people like Misha to try to convince his dad of the brutal truth of what’s happening in Ukraine.Valerie Hopkins
What do you think it is psychologically that prevents him from— I mean, of course there’s this media, but you’re also his son, and you’re telling him the truth, and he doesn’t want to believe it? It’s too painful? It’s too sad?Misha Katsurin
I think he won’t. I think he won’t. He cannot.
That’s the power of this propaganda. He won’t. He loves me, and he’s really scared, and he told that his heart is bleeding. And that’s very painful.
And that’s why we need to be more wise, and we need to be calm and explain and explain and explain, three times or five times, or 20 times, as more as we need.Sabrina Tavernise
Valerie, thank you.Valerie Hopkins
Thank you, Sabrina.Sabrina Tavernise
On Monday, the Associated Press reported that one of the pregnant women photographed in last week’s attack by Russia on a maternity hospital in the city of Mariupol has died. Her baby was delivered but died, too. The attack and Russia’s response to it is an example of Russia presenting an alternate reality in the face of facts about the war.
After the bombing, Russia’s defense ministry denied having done it, accusing Ukraine of a, quote, “staged provocation.” Then Russia began to criticize the reaction with its foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, calling the international response to the bombing, quote, “pathetic,” and that global public opinion had been, quote, “manipulated.”Archived Recording (Lavrov Through Interpreter)
It’s not the first time we see pathetic outcries concerning the so-called atrocities. You could draw your own conclusions as to how the public opinion is manipulated worldwide.Sabrina Tavernise
Finally, Russia’s embassy in London tweeted photographs of one of the women and claimed that she was a crisis actor who had played several of the women photographed in the immediate aftermath of the attack. Twitter eventually removed the post.
We’ll be right back.
Here’s what else you need to know today.
On Sunday, Russia attacked a Ukrainian military base 12 miles from Ukraine’s border with Poland, bringing the war dangerously close to NATO’s doorstep. The target was a base used to train foreign fighters who flocked to Ukraine to help defend the country against Russia.
The missile attack killed at least 35 people and wounded at least 134. Meanwhile, the death count has risen sharply in the city of Mariupol, which has been encircled and bombed by Russian troops and has been without power, water, or phone connection for more than 10 days.
So far, city officials said, the Russian attacks have killed 2,187 residents. Finally, Russian forces have kidnapped a second Ukrainian mayor in what appears to be a strategy of removing local officials and replacing them with Russian puppets. The abduction of the mayor from the town of Dniprorudne follows the dramatic capture of the mayor of Melitopol, who was reportedly taken from a government building with a bag over his head.Archived Recording
[NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]Sabrina Tavernise
In a video message, the mayor’s replacement, a Russian appointee, instructed the residents of Melitopol, to adjust to, quote, “the new reality,” and to end their resistance to Russian occupation.Archived Recording
[NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]Sabrina Tavernise
Today’s episode was produced by Asthaa Chaturvedi, Diana Nguyen and Kaitlin Roberts, with help from Rob Szypko and Michael Simon Johnson. It was edited by Marc Georges and Lisa Chow, contains original music by Marion Lozano and was engineered by Chris Wood. Our theme music is by Jim Brunberg and Ben Landsverk of Wonderly.
That’s it for The Daily. I’m Sabrina Tavernise. See you tomorrow.
Russians and Ukrainians are deeply connected. Millions of Ukrainians have relatives in Russia. Many have lived there. Because of that, some have found themselves standing on opposite sides of the conflict from their own family members.
In the days following Russia’s invasion, thousands of Russian citizens took to the streets to protest, and many were arrested. Tens of thousands have fled to countries like Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Many who left were outraged about what they saw as a criminal war, worried about conscription or a closed Russian border, or concerned that their livelihoods were no longer viable back home.
Still, in a country where the state controls the media and the last vestiges of a free press have been dismantled, many do not believe that there is a war unfolding. As Mr. Putin has waged war on Ukraine, a digital barricade has gone up between Russia and the world. At the same time, the country’s propaganda machine has been busy churning out misinformation aimed at its own citizens.
Life outside of Russia for members of the diaspora from the former Soviet Union is complicated, too. They have long bonded over Russian language and history, a testament to a shared background as immigrants from more than a dozen nations that once constituted the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Now generations of those immigrants are re-examining how they define their identities.
Part I. Listen to learn.
Your students might start by listening to the episode of The Daily, embedded above, that explores some of these topics. They might then move on to a Times podcast that features an interview with the Russian American journalist Masha Gessen or read an Opinion essay by the former publisher of Meduza, an independent news outlet in Russia, headlined “Russians Must Accept the Truth. We Failed.”
As your students listen or read, they might try to answer these questions:
- What do ordinary Russians know about the war being waged by their government?
- What are they being told to believe?
- What examples of confusion do these pieces give, as people struggle to reconcile conflicting information?
Part II: See what the news looks like inside Russia.
To help your students see what it might be like to read or watch the news from inside Russia, share with them “Two Days of Russian News Coverage: An Alternate Reality of War.”
Then, invite them to contrast the information in that article (or in “4 Falsehoods Russians Are Told About the War”) with what The New York Times has published on Telegram, a messaging platform with more than half a billion active users through which The Times hopes to deliver news to people in Russia. Here is a sample of what the news report there looks like.
How might an ordinary Russian citizen, like the father you met in The Daily, make sense of what The Times is reporting?
The Information War: Media Literacy
Frank Bruni’s recent Opinion essay, “Russia, Where All the News Is Fake,” begins this way:
We are only as good as the information we get. Only as grounded, as enlightened, as capable of forming rational opinions about our political leaders and making intelligent decisions about our lives. If we’re fed lies, we’re lost. If we subsist on fiction, we dwell in a fantasyland.
In the section above, we delved into what ordinary Russians are seeing in their news. Now we’ll consider what your students are seeing and how they can separate truth from propaganda as well as other kinds of disinformation and misinformation.
Part I. Start with TikTok.
What have your students learned about the Russia-Ukraine war on social media? How do they know what’s real? Read them these three paragraphs from the article “TikTok Is Gripped by the Violence and Misinformation of Ukraine War” and ask them to react:
Bre Hernandez used to scan TikTok for videos of makeup tutorials and taco truck reviews. Since Russia invaded Ukraine, the 19-year-old has spent hours each day scrolling the app for war videos, watching graphic footage of Ukrainian tanks firing on Russian troops and civilians running away from enemy gunfire.
“What I see on TikTok is more real, more authentic than other social media,” said Ms. Hernandez, a student in Los Angeles. “I feel like I see what people there are seeing.”
But what Ms. Hernandez was actually viewing and hearing in the TikTok videos was footage of Ukrainian tanks taken from video games, as well as a soundtrack that was first uploaded to the app more than a year ago. The footage and soundtrack were traced back to their original sources in a New York Times analysis of the videos.
Even the White House recognizes what a powerful platform TikTok is. In early March, administration officials invited top TikTok stars to a video call to receive key information about the war, according to The Washington Post. Here, you can see one of them, Kahlil Greene, explaining what happened.
But even as students read and discuss the TikTok article, they should know that this isn’t just a problem for teenagers. In his Opinion piece, “We Can’t Trust Everything We See About the Livestreamed War,” Jay Caspian Kang writes about the impossible task all of us have as we scroll through our newsfeeds — “to pull together as many bits of good information as possible, then try to stitch everything together into a coherent narrative.” And the problem goes far beyond eliminating disinformation from Russia, since some of Ukraine’s official accounts have blended fact and mythmaking, too. He writes:
Predictably enough, some of the more stirring footage out of Ukraine has been debunked or had its veracity brought into serious question. This includes video of the so-called Ghost of Kyiv, the purported fighter pilot who took down six Russian planes, and the reported deaths of the soldiers stationed at Snake Island who Zelensky said had died heroically but in fact are all still alive. Widely circulated video that purportedly showed a young Ukrainian girl confronting a Russian soldier actually showed Ahed Tamimi, a young Palestinian activist who was filmed near her home in the West Bank. The footage was shot in 2012.
As a start, you might ask your students to discuss what they already know about media and news literacy and how those lessons might apply as they scroll through their news feeds. What are some general guidelines they should keep in mind? (More on those below, in Part III.)
Part II. Understand how The Times and other reputable news sources verify reporting.
Most of what is in this collection comes from The Times. Why should students believe it instead of information from their social media feeds? What makes legacy news sources different?
Since many have asked, The Times has created an explainer, “How We Verify Our Reporting on the Ukraine War.” It describes how dozens of reporters, photographers, videographers, audio journalists, writers and others work in Ukraine and the countries bordering it to deliver real-time, independent, in-depth coverage of the conflict and its reverberations across the region.
As your students read the piece, they might underline the things they didn’t know about how news organizations like The Times gather and verify information; then, you might invite them to read those lines aloud. What did they learn about how reliable news gathering operations work? How does that contrast with other sources of information?
Yet no source of news is completely bias-free, and many have accused Western news sources of a double standard in covering this war versus other conflicts. This Al Jazeerah article, this Washington Post opinion piece and this piece from The Nation all address that issue. What biases have your students noticed? How? What voices or perspectives do your students think have been missing from the news media they have seen or read?
Part III: Challenge students to apply the SIFT method to the news they share.
At the beginning of this collection, we suggested that your students pull something from their newsfeed and write about why it got their attention, then share it with classmates. But how do you make sure that what they’re sharing is reliable, or at least help them ask that question as they choose?
Many, including Joel Breakstone, the director of the Stanford History Education Group, suggest an approach called lateral reading that teaches students “how to assess not only the reliability of the specific information they’ve found online but also who published it and for what purpose,” Jay Caspian Kang writes. (We have recommended lateral reading ourselves.)
The digital literacy expert Mike Caulfield has created a practical approach to doing this quickly via a four-step model he calls SIFT: stop, investigate, find and trace.
In “Teaching News Literacy in the Midst of Unfolding Crises,” he explains in detail how to apply SIFT to the news from Ukraine. Read what he and Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, the executive director of the National Writing Project, recommend, and challenge your students to apply it to the news artifact they brought to class.
War and Literature
In “Again and Again, Literature Provides an Outlet for the Upended Lives of Refugees,” Dwight Garner writes:
Since the beginning writers have sought to capture the experience of the outsider, the exile, the parched traveler, the wanderer, the migrant. Ovid wrote the letters in his “Tristia” (“Sorrows”) after his banishment from Rome. In “Crime and Punishment,” a desperate man asks, “Do you understand what it means when you have absolutely nowhere to turn?” I am not here to suggest that reading necessarily makes us better, more moral. The Nazis liked Dostoyevsky, too. But Joyce Carol Oates was surely correct when she wrote, “Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.”
The unrelentingly grim news is a reminder of how much of literature is fueled by crises of migration and its aftermaths, and how writers have tried to capture the texture of upended lives.
What have your students read that can help them understand the current crisis?
Part I: Make thematic connections.
Invite your students to read Mr. Garner’s essay, then ask them to brainstorm a list: What stories, novels, poems, films or other works of art have they read or seen that speak to “the outsider, the exile, the parched traveler, the wanderer, the migrant”? How might those works help us understand the current crisis? You might challenge them to find passages from one or more of the works they identified that speaks especially well to something in the news now, and explain why.
Part II: Read the work of Ukrainian writers.
The Times offers a selection of recent translated work by Ukrainian writers that you and your students might enjoy. But if you’d like to focus on just one poem, you might choose the Ukrainian American poet Ilya Kaminsky’s “We Lived Happily During the War.” In a related guest essay for The Times’s Opinion section, he writes:
Since the war began, I have received emails from journalists asking me to explain my poem “We Lived Happily During the War,” which went viral on the day Vladimir Putin’s troops began bombing my birth country. The poem was published on Poetry International in 2013, the same year the Maidan protests began in Ukraine. Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s president at the time, was trying to lean closer to Putin and crush protests. Ukrainians rejected him; Putin stole Crimea; and the war in Donbas began.
Your students might read the essay to learn about the origins of his poem, then move on to the poem itself. Together, they might then answer the question Mr. Kaminsky poses: Why do so many find poetry comforting in times of crisis? For a final challenge, your students might find more poetry that offers wisdom, comfort or courage for times like ours, perhaps even creating a class anthology of some of their favorites.
Part III: Compose found poems from the news.
For years, The Learning Network ran a found-poem contest, in which we invited students to create original poetry by taking words and phrases from Times articles. The process of creating a found poem requires students to read closely to identify the words and details that resonate for them, then recombine those words to create something that summarizes, reacts to or comments on their topic.
Over the years, many our winning poems have focused on war, including “Nothing Less than Heroic” by Ryan Nguyen, “We were,” by Laurel Booth, and a poem about World War II composed back in 2011 by a student named John from Times articles from the 1940’s.
Share these examples with your students, then invite them to take an article related to Ukraine and create a found poem from it. Full directions, and many tips, can be found here. If you would like to consider doing blackout poetry instead, we also have directions, tips and examples for that.
How to Help
How You Can Help Ukraine
There are many worthy groups asking for donations. Here are four standouts.
Part I: Do something.
We open and close this collection of resources with advice from a Well article: “What’s the Best Way to Cope in an Anxious World? Do Something.” As the piece points out, there are many ways to help. You can donate to aid organizations working in Ukraine or volunteer with a local group sending supplies abroad. Find an organization that helps refugees from all over the world. Give blood to the American Red Cross. Or work in your own community, since, as donations flow into Ukraine, other groups may receive less. Consider supporting local food banks or other nonprofits in your community. Your students can make individual plans, or you can do something as a classroom or school.
Part II: Look for the other helpers.
Your students may know the famous quote from Mr. Rogers:
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.
Here are just a few of the recent Times articles that describe what some helpers are doing. Perhaps they can inspire their own efforts:
- ‘You Just Have to Open the Door and Help People’: Poland’s Tourism Industry Aids Refugees (Article)
- A Waiter. A Cab Driver. An Engineer: The U.S. Fighters Bound for Ukraine (Article)
- A Welcome Steeped in History: Ukrainian Refugees Arrive in Germany (Article)
- In the War Over Ukraine, Expect the Unexpected (Opinion)
- How Readers Around the World Are Praying for Ukraine (Opinion)
Tell Us How You’re Teaching About This Conflict
We hope to post a collection of ideas from teachers around the world soon. Please let us know what you’re doing, how and why — and suggest resources beyond what we have included here, such as “The Ukraine Crisis” from The Choices Program or “Defending Ukraine” from The Council on Foreign Relations. Thank you!
How are you teaching about the Russia-Ukraine war?
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Natalie Proulx, a senior staff editor for The Learning Network, provided additional help with this collection.
Want more Lessons of the Day? You can find them all here.
Katherine Schulten has been a Learning Network editor since 2006. Before that, she spent 19 years in New York City public schools as an English teacher, school-newspaper adviser and literacy coach. @KSchulten
Jeremy Engle joined The Learning Network as a staff editor in 2018 after spending more than 20 years as a classroom humanities and documentary-making teacher, professional developer and curriculum designer working with students and teachers across the country.