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Warm-up:

1. Create a shared space for students to write, on a whiteboard, poster paper, or a Google Doc. Ask them to respond to two questions:

  • What have you heard about the crisis in Ukraine?
  • Who is being affected by the crisis, and how?

2. Review responses as a class. Point out patterns in students’ answers, and address any misinformation. Ask students:

  • What had you heard about Ukraine before the current crisis? Think about news stories you might have heard, but also about Ukrainian history, geography, culture, and anything else you might know about the country and its people.
  • Why is it important to know about the history of a country and the people who live there in order to understand current events taking place there?

Introducing the Lesson:

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, casualties have been mounting while over 800,000 refugees have crossed the border into neighboring countries. Ukraine, which asserted independence from the USSR in 1991, has been racked by conflict since 2014, when Russia began backing secessionists in eastern Ukraine. Violence between separatists and the Ukrainian military claimed over ten thousand lives and displaced some 1.5 million even before the current escalation of Russian aggression.

"The first step in confronting the most dangerous European crisis since World War II is understanding the people, places, and motivations that led to the current dreadful moment," writes Pulitzer Center Executive Director Jon Sawyer in a recent note on the crisis in Ukraine. In this lesson, students will analyze reporting on conflict and Russian intervention in the region over the last several years. Through this exploration, they will gain context for the breaking news headlines about Ukraine, empowering them to evaluate information, engage in dialogue, and seek out underreported stories on this global issue.

Exploring the News Resources:

Choose one story to explore with your class during the period, or invite students to choose a story based on their own interests. While students explore the news story, they should complete the following activities:

  • When the name of a city, region, or country is mentioned, find and mark it on a map.
  • Highlight any unfamiliar vocabulary and write down any questions you have about information presented in the story.

Resource 1: “In the Trenches of Ukraine’s Forever War” by James Verini: This story chronicles the lives of soldiers and civilians on the front line in eastern Ukraine, where the conflict between Ukrainians and Russia-backed separatists drags on.

Resource 2: “What Does Putin Really Want?” by Sarah Topol: In conversation with Russian diplomats, experts, and allies, journalist Sarah Topol examines how Russian leaders see themselves and their country’s place in the world in order to better understand Vladimir Putin and the motives underlying Russian foreign policy.
Resource 3: “Lives Frozen by Conflict” by Paula Bronstein: This photo and video project highlights the impact of the war in eastern Ukraine on elderly civilians, who made up a third of the country's 3.4 million people depending on humanitarian assistance in 2020.

Discussion Questions:

After exploring the news story, students discuss:

  1. What is one piece of information in the news story you explored that you already knew?
  2. What is one piece of information in the news story that surprised or interested you?
  3. Did you have any questions while exploring the story? What more do you want to know?
  4. How do you think exploring this story can be helpful in understanding the current crisis in Ukraine?
  5. How did the story you read highlight an underreported story and the voices of people who often are not included in news coverage?
  6. What stories do you think might be going underreported in the current coverage of the crisis in Ukraine? What can we do to seek out those stories?

Extension Activities:

1. Verifying News Stories

Evaluating the accuracy of information can be especially challenging when a crisis is unfolding in the headlines, and new information is being shared rapidly by many different people and institutions. Use this activity to critically examine information you encounter about the conflict in Ukraine.

Step 1: Find a news story about the crisis in Ukraine online, and highlight factual claims the author makes in the story. (Students can explore the latest stories by Pulitzer Center-supported journalists here.)

Step 2: Verify the information by answering the following questions on a separate sheet of paper.

  • What news organization was this story published by? Is it well-known or reliable? 
  • Who is the author? If you search the author’s name online what comes up? Do they have a connection or expertise in the topic they are reporting on?
  • Can you verify the factual claims you identified? Try these strategies:
    • Does the story include hyperlinks to other sources of information? When you click on those links, where does it lead?
    • Is the information attributed to a particular person? If so, are they an appropriate, knowledgeable source?
    • Do other news stories support the factual claims you identified? Do any news stories contradict the claims?

Step 3: Share a presentation with the class or write a short paper that answers the following question: Why is it important to verify information you hear about the crisis in Ukraine, and what strategies can you use to do so? Feel free to include examples of information and/or misinformation you encountered in the story you read.

2. Analyzing Calls to Action in Response to Global Crises

Research actions that have been proposed in order to support the Ukrainian people and/or promote peace. You might look at actions proposed by humanitarian organizations; government officials in different countries; Ukrainian civilians; or others. Prepare a presentation for your class or write a paper that answers the following questions:

  • What is the proposed action?
  • Who is advocating for this action?
  • What do the people advocating for this action hope it will accomplish?
  • Does anyone oppose this action? If so, what harm or unintended consequences do they think it could cause?
  • Would you promote this action to others? Why or why not?

3. Responding Through Art

Step 1: Return to the news story you read in this lesson, or choose another. Identify a powerful image in this story. (You could use a photograph from the story, or an image described by the journalist in writing.)

Step 2: Create a visual representation (drawing, painting, animation, etc.) or write a poem that captures this image, and the way it makes you feel.

Step 3. Consider sharing your work on social media or display it at school to raise awareness and inspire change.

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