Crimea, a semi-autonomous region of Ukraine, is located strategically among regions and factions that have fought to control it–and the trade routes through it — since the first century, CE. In recent decades Crimea has leaned most toward Russia, with about 80% of its population favoring Russian-oriented leadership since the Second World War. This is in contrast to citizens in northern and western Ukraine where the population overwhelmingly supports a future within an expanded European Union. But much as Ukraine tends to be divided into a west-leaning West and east-leaning East, on closer inspection the situation is far more complex.

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

Social studies, political science, international studies

Key Question to Explore:

How does the history of Ukraine inform the current crisis in Crimea?

New Terminology:

Crimea, Ukraine, Tatar, Sevastopol

Materials Needed:

Globe article, worksheet handout, high speed connection to the Internet

Study and Discussion Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

This lesson will provide important historical/geographical/cultural and linguistic context to the current crisis in Ukraine, and especially the recent Russian occupation of its semi-autonomous region of Crimea. Students will work in groups to research and report on Ukrainian history.

Action (lesson plan and task):

Begin with a short discussion that will help connect the remote country of Ukraine to the students’ immediate local, provincial and Canadian contexts.

Questions to guide discussion:

  • What do these people have in common: Stephen Poloz, the governor of the Bank of Canada; Roberta Bondar, astrononaut and hockey star Mike Bossy? (they are all Canadians of Ukrainian heritage)
  • Do any of you have Ukrainian heritage? Do you have friends or relatives who have Ukrainian heritage? (Answers will vary)
  • When you think of Ukrainians, what images come to mind? (Answers will vary, but often people think of colourful Easter Eggs, perogies (potato-filled dumplings, also called vareniky), kielbasa (pork sausage, often pronounced Koobassa)
  • How many Canadians share a Ukrainian heritage, do you think? (More than one million, the same number as in the United States, which has ten times more people in all)
  • Can anyone say a word or phrase in Ukrainian? (Many people know the word “dobra” which means “good.”)

Engage students in another short discussion to determine whether they were aware of the news reports coming out of Ukraine. Next, have a volunteer read the Globe and Mail article aloud to the class and explain that they will work in groups to fill in some of the historical blanks suggested by the article.

Note that they will need to access the Internet to do their research. You may provide them with your preferred links.

Group One handout:

You will research the history of Ukraine, using these questions as a guide:

  • For about how long has the territory of Ukraine been inhabited by people?
  • What were the main countries or groups of people who came together in the 15th century to become what are now known as Ukrainians?
  • Using a simple map, describe the way the country was divided between the Russians and the Austro-Hungarians from the late 1700s to 1919.
  • Who was involved in the Crimean war of 1854-55? About how many military casualties did this cause?
  • Why is Crimea of such historical importance in the region?(Why did countries fight over it?)
  • Who took control of Ukraine in 1919 and under what circumstances?
  • Describe Soviet repression of Ukrainians with emphasis on the forced starvation of 1932-33. How many people are thought to have been killed this way?
  • Who controlled Ukraine at the beginning of WWII (until 1941) and then till the end of the war?
  • When was Crimea added to Ukraine’s territory in modern times?
  • Describe the key event that took place in 1991 and tell briefly how it changed Ukraine.

Group Two handout: 

You will research the geography and economy of Ukraine, using these questions as a guide:

  • Produce a simple map of Ukraine, showing the main rivers, the Dniester and the Dnieper, as well as the cities of Karkov, Kiyiv, L’viv and Sevastopol.
  • Describe the geographical size of Ukraine compared to other countries or to Canadian provinces.
  • Describe the various geographical features of Ukraine and list a few goods each produces.
  • Why do most Ukrainians and Russians typically visit the Black Sea coast?
  • Describe Ukraine’s economy in terms of its markets. About how much does it export to the west (Europe) and how much to the east (Russia)?
  • Where does Ukraine get its oil and gas and how does this affect the current crisis in Crimea?
  • What is the Ukrainian currency called and how does it relate to the Canadian dollar in value?
  • What is the average annual individual income of Ukrainians today, in Canadian dollars?

Group Three handout:

You will research Ukrainian culture and language, as well as some Canadian facts, using these questions as a guide:

  • What is the Cyrillic alphabet? Draw a few letters to illustrate it.
  • What other languages is Ukrainian closely related to?
  • Describe several traditional Ukrainian foods and note whether you have ever eaten them and what you thought of them.
  • Using a picture, show traditional Ukrainian dress for men and women. How would you describe it?
  • Describe the use of both Russian and Ukrainian languages in Ukraine. In which regions are these most likely to be encountered?
  • List some of the dominant religions in Ukraine.
  • List some typical names for boys and girls in Ukraine.
  • There have been several mass migrations of Ukrainians to Canada. Describe each era briefly—the years, and the main reasons for the migration.
  • What does “diaspora” mean and how does it relate to Ukrainians in Canada?

Consolidation of Learning:

Ask students to present oral reports—with charts and drawings—to the whole class. Encourage discussion.

Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria:

Successful completion of the worksheet assignments; contribution to class discussion.

Confirming Activity:

Evaluation of students’ completed work sheets; peer-evaluation by group members; self-evaluation; group-leader evaluation of group members’ work.