“Russia started the invasion,” I told my husband while continuing to scroll through TikTok. “There are videos from Ukraine showing Russian fighter jets flying overhead and missiles exploding nearby.” What a strange time to be alive when we can watch a global conflict unfold in real-time. What makes this conflict a bit different from previous ones, however, is just how connected our students seem to be. While Ukraine and Russia discuss “people’s republics” and economic sanctions, our students are on social media, and they’re worried. Some worry this is the start of World War III. Others are afraid that they will graduate high school only to be drafted and sent to fight. If the conflict between Ukraine and Russia is a bit unclear for you, talking about it with your students might seem daunting. Here are some resources that may help:
A brief overview of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia
Ukraine became a nation after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Although independent, Ukraine remained closely connected to Russia. Russians make up the largest ethnic minority group in Ukraine, approximately 17 percent of the nation’s population. Most of these individuals live in the eastern regions of the country. Many of them want to merge with Russia. In 2014, aided by Russian separatists in these eastern regions, Russian invaded Ukraine. It took over a section of the county called Crimea, which it continues to control today. Fighting has continued, albeit on a smaller scale, since 2014. The conflict has caused an estimated 14,000 deaths.
Beginning in March and April of 2021, Putin began moving Russian troops to the Ukrainian border. Global leaders quickly condemned these actions, but Putin was undeterred. On February 18th, he proclaimed that the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine were free “people’s republics.” This meant they were independent and no longer part of Ukraine. World leaders objected to this proclamation and began implementing economic sanctions against Russia.
On February 23rd, Russian troops invaded Ukraine and have begun trying to wrest control of the Donestk and Luhansk regions from Ukrainian control. Putin proclaimed that this was a necessary action to protect and “demilitarize” the newly “independent states.” Putin also warned other nations not to become involved in the conflict. He stated that those who do will face severe consequences.
The United Nations Security Council wholeheartedly condemned Russia’s actions and Putin himself for the aggressive move. The United States has sent several thousand troops to countries neighboring Ukraine. President Biden has stated that they are there, not to fight Russia, but in an attempt to dissuade Russia from further aggression and to provide support for our allies in the region.
#ukrainerussiaconflict UN Security Council confirms Russia invasion of Ukraine after Putin announced a “special military operation” late tonight.
What students are worrying about
The biggest concern among teens seems to be the fear of being drafted. While many of them are dealing with their worries with humor, the fact that they’re talking about it at all lets us know it is on their minds. Young men (and women!) are taking to TikTok to express their anger, fear, and confusion. The idea that they might finish high school only to end up drafted if the conflict between Ukraine and Russia escalates is weighing heavily on many young people. For others, the thought of rising gas prices, home heating, and food costs are a cause for anxiety. With things being financially tight for many Americans already, the idea of spending even more on basic goods and services could be devastating.
How to address student concerns
As teachers, we know that often our students come to us with their concerns. Despite our best efforts, answering their questions can be tricky. Especially when we don’t have all the answers either! We can, however, give them a safe place to discuss things. Start by asking them what they’ve heard. If they’re mostly getting their information from other’s social media posts, there’s probably some misinformation we’ll want to address first. It can be reassuring to provide them with facts about what is really happening. We can reiterate President Biden’s remarks about not sending Americans to war against Russia. For those concerned about a draft, a quick discussion about how a draft works might assuage fears. Be prepared with resources from your school and community to assist students facing economic hardships.
Additional resources you can use
The following articles are ideal for helping your students build their understanding of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, their understanding of the draft, and give some insight into what might happen next.