How to Teach Kids About the History of Russia and Ukraine Crisis

Since the current Ukraine crisis began I have been fielding queries and questions from kids and adults about the history of the region, the causes of the conflict and more.

You probably don't know this about me, but my background is in Russian history and culture, a subject I have been delving deeper and deeper into for more than 30 years.

So I have some background knowledge and a couple of opinions about what's going on.

I have pulled my emails and Facebook group answers into this article, which I hope will help some of you.

How can we help?

Like most of us, I can't do much about the current crisis in Ukraine, but I can help people with the background and give you some resources to research and learn more along with your kids.

By the way, here are some ways we can all contribute:
  • find a local collection point to donate toiletries, medical supplies, food, clothes - check what is requested locally;
  • donate cash to the Red Cross or IRC Ukraine appeal
  • buy a sunflower study pack with all proceeds going to UNICEF
  • make an Etsy purchase from a Ukrainian seller (they have suspended all fees) to put some money directly in the hands of those who need it. This shop has some gorgeous watercolour prints, for example.

If you need advice on how to talk to kids about the crisis, Dr Laura Markham has an excellent guide.

For younger children, our Ukraine colouring book is the perfect way to start talking about the country and its traditions.

The History of Russia and Ukraine

There is a long history between Moscow and Kyiv, dating all the way back to the 9th Century, and a shared identity of Slav-ness, which was corrupted and torn asunder by the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The Caucasus region has long been disputed territory and a thousand years of history probably isn't going to be resolved by the current moves on either side. Brief history here

The Donbass region, where the territories of Donetsk and Luhansk are, has long been disputed and is in many ways more Russian than Ukrainian.

These are tribal territories, not nation states (a 19th Century construct which stamped across traditional territory and tribal allegiance from 1848 onward and has caused every conflict, war and dispute since). And as such their borders are more fluid than maps and governments like.

But international law decreed that Donbass become a Ukrainian territory after the dissolution of the USSR, ignoring the largely Russian population there.

There have latterly been attempts by Ukrainian authorities to outlaw Russian language there and turn more toward a Ukrainian and European identity, which were violently resisted by local people.

Hence the last 8 years of war there which has now escalated.

The proliferation of NATO in Europe has certainly caused discomfort in Russia - imagine how the USA would feel if Russian missiles were placed in Central America or Canada - but the causes of this conflict are more complex than that.

Resources for Learning More About Russia and Ukraine

On to the resources...

Here are some reliable fact-based sources on the history of the region, but dependent on age you may have to read/watch and disseminate to kids, or have them do their own research project!

Russia and its history:

Russian revolution(s):


On the history of the Ukrainian problem:

On Marxism:

Marxism into Communist Socialism:

The Cold War:

Where do we go from here?

The current conflict comes out of decades of history and conflict between two countries that share some commonality but much difference.

Land was traditionally divided between tribal peoples and lines drawn on maps have created conflict ever since.

NATO in Putin's back yard is an issue, but so is the ill treatment of Russian nationals living in Ukrainian territory, economic interests, corruption, Russia's current view of European and US leaders and many other factors.

Reliable, unbiased information and even news stories are hard to come by right now, so I hope these links will help you and your kids as a jumping off point for your own research and fact finding.

The New York Times has this lesson plan which you may also find useful, although the article it links to is heavy on NATO and little else.

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