Ukraine is United

Wed, 08/27/2014 - 5:00pm

This September a new school year will begin in Ukraine and the first lesson students be taught is “Ukraine is united" and the lesson will be devoted to state integrity of Ukraine. A tough issue for the country engrossed into an ongoing military conflict and terrorist attacks.

Thousands of school pupils will have to travel to a different school in another city because it is dangerous for them to attend school in Donetsk and Lugansk regions, or their parents fled Crimea because they did not want to live in Russia-occupied land. Some children have even lost their parents due to the crisis or their parent was in danger because of his or her profession or political views.

Ukraine needs unity.  The education system in Ukraine needs unity. How do we create and implement such unity in Ukraine? How to teach teenagers about moral values when they see immoral behavior and injustice? How to deal with historical memory and whom to consider a hero? How to initiate dialogue when your classmates have different opinion?

Unity through Testimony

One of very important elements of such education for moral unity or values unity is to keep humanistic values a priority, to focus on human dignity. Though it is very hard to concentrate on concrete faces and fates, such focus helps to slow down the speed of perception and slow down polarization and labeling, which helps to evoke empathy. This approach also assists in the critical analysis of propaganda influence of behavior and can assert personal coping strategies when a teenager feels that he or she does not trust a media source.

USC Shoah Foundation’s Teaching with Testimony in the 21st Century Program, uses video testimonies from the Visual History Archive to personalize history, to train teachers on critical analysis and skills of empathy and compassion. The 15 program graduates developed their own lessons, which incorporate eyewitness testimonies and also focused on a topic or subject. After piloting their activities in their own classrooms and universities, the graduates reflected on teaching with testimony:

 “Testimonies bring the opportunity to learn about the history through the stories of ordinary people; in my opinion, it contributes to the formation of archaic and personal identity, influences on the formation of behaviors, allows to compare lessons of history and present. They "humanize" the story. Events of the past that were experienced by specific people warn us of the possible consequences of today action.

Unity through Education

The initial seminar where Ukrainian teachers learned how to use the Visual History Archive in education was held in August 2012 in Prague. At this time, teachers chose a specific topic and selected testimonies to be incorporated into their lessons. The follow-up seminar when the teachers present the results of their projects is usually held year after the initial seminar, but for this group the follow up was postponed several times because of the political turmoil in Ukraine.

Teaching with Testimony cohort in Slavske, Ukraine.

Fourteen out of 15 initial participants attended the follow-up seminar in Slavske in Carpathian Mountains. This location was selected specifically for this seminar because we needed a calm place for participants from all around the country to share their products with each other and to discuss the future of master teachers in Ukraine. A marvelous view from the hill let the participants to think strategically, to unite the lessons they created into a broader prospective.

Unity through Teachers

History teachers Andrii Kinash from Poltava and Olga Pedan Slyepuhina from Lviv developed their lessons about moral choice in critical situations. While other participants focused their lessons on Ukrainian history. 

School director from Turbiv Vinnitsa region and school vice-principal Vasyl Diakiv from Zalishyky Ternopil region focused their lessons on local history of their towns, considering Holocaust as an inevitable page of Ukrainian history. Voices of survivors, shed different light on what was known before. Viewing these testimony clips in the lessons students are able to engage with the history of their towns, think critically about the decisions of town residents during the Holocaust, and construct a bigger and more diverse picture of the local history.

Today media literacy is an urgent everyday life skill for students who live in the unprotected environment of the informational war. Another necessary tool for unity in Ukraine, but are Ukrainian schools ready to teach media literacy? This question inspired University educator Valentyna Potapova to develop her lesson “Love under Stalin stars” for her course “Media literacy” at Yalta University. She does not know yet whether this course will be taught this year because of political situation in Crimea, but this lesson could definitely be used in Ukrainian schools. This lesson proposes students to analyze oral history source and historical documents, propaganda leaflets and memories about how it feels to be discriminated. Students not only learn about the essence of totalitarianism, but also learn how to counteract propaganda tricks.

The teacher who knows how to incorporate eyewitness testimonies into their lessons, considers risks and traps of visual history, sees benefits of personalization and priority of human dignity upon propaganda, and considers that the classroom has space for dialogue of people from history and teenagers; will be more equipped and finally ready for the lesson “Ukraine is united.”


Anna Lenchovska