Mark MacKinnon reports on a recent Russian military build-up near its border with Ukraine. This threatens to escalate the conflict between the two countries in a region where a number of Ukrainian soldiers have been killed this year. This was also the site of major military action in 2014 when Russia also occupied Crimea, which had been part of Ukraine since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The relationship between Ukraine and Russia is complex, the result of centuries of tension and conflict related to Russia’s historical claim to eastern parts of Ukraine in particular. Canadian students should be aware that, outside Russia and Ukraine, Canada is home to the largest number of Ukrainians in the world. No doubt many, if not most, classrooms in Canada have at least one student of Ukrainian descent.
Students will work in virtual or actual groups to gain a basic overall understanding of the 20th century history of Ukraine, the recent conflicts with Russia, as well as of the Canadian connection to Ukraine.
Subject Area(s) covered
Social studies, geography, current events
New Terms to explain
NATO, militias, amnestied, coercive, Bosphorus and Dardanelles, psy-op, diaspora
Access to the article and the Internet, especially:
Key things students can learn from this lesson
- The historically significant location of Ukraine in Europe and its relations with Russia;
- Key facts about Russian and Ukrainian military conflicts from 2014 to today;
- Some important facts about the relationship between Canada and Ukraine.
Action (here’s how we’ll do it)
Form groups of five students; each group will choose a leader who will either read the article aloud to the group, or have members take ten minutes to read it on their own. All members should take notes throughout the exercise.
Groups will discuss the article among themselves, addressing these questions or prompts: (Use the Internet as needed)
- Why is Ukraine seeking to join NATO?
- Why might Ukraine not be accepted in NATO?
- What is the key feature of the alliance of NATO nations—more precisely, what happens when one member nation is attacked, according to NATO’s policy?
- Which opinion regarding the current build up do you tend to agree with most: that Russia is bluffing, or that Russia and Ukraine are about to escalate the simmering military conflict?
Next, complete the following, using these two websites as sources:
The group leader should distribute the questions or tasks among the group members; all but one of these can be completed using one of the two links, above.
- Locate a map of Ukraine, showing neighbouring countries as well as major cities. Locate the cities near Ukraine’s eastern border with Russia.
- What percentage of the Ukrainian population is of Russian descent? In what part of Ukraine do most Russians live?
- What internal Russian conflict played out in Ukraine immediately after the Russian revolution in 1917?
- How were Ukrainians treated under the Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, in the 1930s? How might this have contributed to current Ukrainian-Russian relations?
- Describe the events of 2014, relative to a military conflict on the eastern border and the dispute over control of Crimea. Who attacked whom, the number of casualties, any territory lost or gained, and how the situation was resolved, if it was resolved.
- How many Canadians share either full or partial Ukrainian origins? Where in Canada are the highest concentrations of these Canadians?
- Give three examples of the ways in which Canada has assisted Ukraine in its troubles with Russia.
- Comparing the relative military power of Russia and Ukraine, which has the greater military force and by about how much? (Rough percentage)
- The Ukrainian government has accused some Ukrainians of being openly supportive of Russia. Give one example and explain why this is a problem for Ukraine.
- Finally, if you are Ukrainian or spend time with those who have a Ukrainian heritage, what foods have Ukrainians contributed to Canadian cuisine? Which of these can now be found in nearly every supermarket in Canada? Have you tried Ukrainian dishes? If so, what did you enjoy the most?
When members have completed their tasks, have them report to the group, while the others take notes. They should review their notes and submit them to the teacher.
Consolidation of Learning
- The teacher takes up their reports after they have been evaluated.
- Identify Ukraine on a map and point to key cities on both sides of its border with Russia, as well as to Crimea.
- List three key facts about Russian and Ukrainian military conflicts from 2014 to today;
- Explain, in general terms, the continuing warm relationship between Canada and Ukraine.
- Students demonstrate an understanding of the situation between Russia and Ukraine while discussing their work. They could also read this later article by Mark Mackinnon: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/world/article-war-is-already-here-on-the-russian-border-ukrainian-troops-wait-for/
Helpful Internet Searches
Activities to do together
- Try a Ukrainian dish for a meal at your house.
- When pandemic conditions permit, invite a Ukrainian friend to your house to have dinner and to talk about Ukrainian culture; alternatively, seek out a Ukrainian student in your class to discuss the current situation in their ancestral country.
- Note developments on the looming conflict as they develop and are reported in the media.