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‘Crash Course on the War in Ukraine:’ Associate Professor Paula McAvoy Shares Resources for Educators

War in Ukraine

Editors note: The following post was written by Paula McAvoy, an associate professor of social studies education in the NC State College of Education, to provide educators with resources as they discuss the war in Ukraine in their classrooms.

As a former high school social studies teacher, I remember feeling overwhelmed by keeping up with major national and world events. It is one thing to introduce current events as they unfold and another thing to feel like one has enough knowledge of the context to help students understand more than just the basics of day-to-day happenings. I often wanted a primer for myself so that I could then think about how to connect current events to what we were learning in social studies.

With that in mind, I gathered a set of resources (mostly documentaries and podcasts) that would help teachers quickly get up to speed about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Some are likely appropriate to use in class, some will need more scaffolding and support, some will just be useful for building your own understanding. For each, I’ve identified the central question that gets answered so that teachers can choose where to start.

Who is President Vladimir Putin and what does he want?

PBS Frontline, “Putin’s Road to War(aired March 15, 2022). This 55 minute documentary details how the current crises moved toward full invasion.

PBS Frontline has gathered their reporting on President Putin on this page. I suggest starting with the two part episode “Putin’s Revenge” (2017) for a good overview of Putin’s career, motivations, and evolving relationship with the United States. They are found toward the bottom of the page. 

This American Life, “The Other Mr. President” (aired Feb. 25, 2022). This 71-minute podcast episode consists of a set of short “acts” that each take a different perspective about what Russians believe about President Putin.

Who is President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine?

The Daily, “Why Zelensky Poses a Unique Threat to Putin?” (aired March 2, 2022).  This 34-minute podcast episode is a biography of President Zelensky and discusses how he organized Ukraine against the invasion.

What is the relationship between Ukraine and Russia? 

Throughline, “Ukraine’s Dangerous Independence” (aired March 10, 2022).  This 44-minute podcast episode includes discussion with Historian Serhii Plokhii who talks about the long history of the relationship between the two countries, beginning with the Cossacks.

Why are US economic sanctions a powerful response against Russia?

Planet Money, “The Dollar at the Center of the World.” Planet money recently re-ran this 21-minute episode about the negotiations after WWII that resulted in the U.S. dollar becoming the currency of international trade.  It centers on a 1944 economic summit in New Hampshire with a lot of drinking and drama. This helps link WWII to the war today and explains why the U.S. is able to use sanctions as tool of diplomacy.

How is this war related to larger trends in geopolitics and a reordering of the world?

The Nation, “Geopolitics is a Ruthless Business” (March 7, 2022). This article provides a big picture analysis of how this war is positioned within a larger story of geopolitics.