Students survey the economic issues and political developments that have shaped the outlook of policymakers in the Kremlin and Washington, D.C.
February 2014 – This lesson was produced in 2014 but some of the videos and cartoons remain relevant and could provide helpful background information for discussions you may be having about the current situation. We also released a new lesson, The Ukraine Crisis, in February 2022.
- Explore the ongoing political protests in Ukraine
- Analyze political cartoons that depict the Ukrainian crisis
- Identify the techniques used by cartoonists to express political opinion
- Monitor the Ukrainian crisis and consider international responses
Unrest in Ukraine—Background & Charting the Crisis
PowerPoint of political cartoons
Monitoring Ukraine in the News
Note: This lesson has three distinct parts—the first provides a background to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine; the second is a political cartoon analysis; and the third asks students to monitor the Ukrainian crisis in the news. You may choose to use all three components, or alternatively, just one or two.
Introduction: Setting the Stage
Begin the class by asking students if they have heard about the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. If yes, what do students know about these events? Record students’ answers on the board. If students are unfamiliar with the situation, share with them that Ukraine is currently facing its largest political crisis in nearly a decade, a crisis that involves both the European Union and Russia. Tell the class that they will be exploring this crisis through readings and political cartoons.
Part I: Analyzing Political Unrest in Ukraine
Form groups of three or four students. Distribute the handouts “Unrest in Ukraine—Background” and “Charting the Crisis.” Ask students to follow the instructions on the handouts and to be prepared to share their answers with the class.
Bring students back together. Go over groups’ responses to the questions. What prompted the crisis in Ukraine? What are the key demands of Ukrainian protesters? Why are Ukrainians divided over the question of either aligning with the European Union or Russia? What stake do members of the international community have in the crisis?
You may wish to show students the following video interview with Patricia Herlihy, professor emerita of history at Brown University, to explore the historical tensions between Russia and Ukraine over Crimea. A second video interview with Douglas Blum, professor of political science at Providence College, highlights the relationships between former Soviet Republics, including Ukraine, and Russia. Before showing the videos, remind students that Ukraine was controlled by Moscow for centuries and was one of fifteen republics of the Soviet Union until its independence in 1991.
Part II: Political Cartoons
Distribute “Political Cartoons” to each student. Review the introduction with the class, emphasizing the techniques cartoonists use to convey an opinion on political issues. Assign each group a cartoon to analyze. Have students discuss the cartoon and then answer the questions provided. Inform students that they will be presenting their work to the class.
Have each group present their political cartoons. Since you might have multiple groups analyzing the same cartoons, you may wish to have them present together or on different questions from the activity.
As a class, discuss how the political cartoons provide perspective on the crisis in Ukraine. Were students able to identify the message of each cartoon? If so, what were the cartoonists trying to express? Which techniques did students think were most effective in getting the message across? Ask students to imagine that they are the editor of a top U.S. newspaper. Which political cartoon would they feature alongside an upcoming, front-page article on the Ukrainian crisis? Why? Does the cartoon they selected provide the best visual representation of the crisis? Or is it the most thought-provoking?
Part III: Monitoring Ukraine in the News
Distribute “Monitoring Ukraine in the News.” Tell students that over the course of the next month, they will be following the Ukrainian crisis in the news and taking note of how the crisis evolves. (Please see the list of news sources below that students can use for this activity.) Students should consult at least two or three news sources and write a short update about the crisis every week on Part I of the handout. At the end of the month, students should answer the questions listed in Part II.
After students have completed the activity, bring the class together to debrief. How has the crisis evolved? Have conditions improved or worsened? What steps has the international community taken? Have the positions of Russia, the United States, and the European Union changed at all? If so, how? What challenges do the Ukrainian people face? Is violence ongoing? Do students believe that a resolution to the conflict is within sight?
Parts I, II, and III: Concluding Thoughts
Ask students to imagine if a crisis similar to the one in Ukraine could happen in the United States. What would be the trigger? How might the police and the U.S. National Guard respond to hundreds of thousands of protesters? How might the international community view the crisis if it became violent? What expectations would students have of the U.S. government to manage or ward off the crisis?
News Coverage of the Crisis
You may find the selected resources below useful for Part III of the lesson.
BBC: Why is Ukraine in turmoil?
The New York Times: Ukraine’s Path to Unrest
The New York Times: Ukraine Leader Strains for Grip as Chaos Spreads
CNN: East vs West: What’s behind Ukraine’s political crisis?
U.S. Government Sources
U.S. State Department: Ukraine
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: Clashes in Ukraine—Live Blog