Lesson plan; ‘The Invasion of Ukraine: How Russia Attacked and What Happens Next’

In this lesson, you will learn about how and why the “most significant European war in almost 80 years” has begun, and explore its implications. Source: The New York Times.

Please note: We are continuing to update this lesson, and we also now have a place for young people to react, discuss and ask questions.

because this is news story that will continue to develop, we recommend following it via these live updates.

Featured Article: “The Invasion of Ukraine: How Russia Attacked and What Happens Next

Early on the morning of Feb. 24 in Ukraine, Russian troops poured over the border, and Russian planes and missile launchers attacked Ukrainian cities and airports. The attacks spanned much of the country, far beyond the border provinces where there has been sporadic fighting between the nations for years.

Ukraine’s government called it “a full-scale attack from multiple directions.” In the Feb. 24 edition of his newsletter, The Morning, David Leonhardt wrote, “The most significant European war in almost 80 years has begun.”

In this lesson, you will learn about this invasion and its implications. Then you will follow the story via live updates as Ukraine and the rest of the world reacts to a military action that threatens serious consequences for the security structure that has governed Europe since the 1990s.

For additional background, take a look at our Jan. 26 lesson that helps explain key concepts like the Soviet Union, the Cold War, NATO and more. The Warm-Up, below, uses the same article for reference.


The Russian invasion will upend the lives of 44 million Ukrainians. But the relevance of Ukraine, on the edge of Europe and thousands of miles from the United States, extends far beyond its borders. Its fate has huge implications for the rest of Europe, the health of the global economy and America’s place in the world.

Why might Russia, the United States and Europe care so much about Ukraine? With a partner or in a small group, make as long a list as you can think of. It might help to think about the following questions:

  • Where is Ukraine on a map of Europe? What is significant about its position? This piece, “How To Think About Ukraine, In Maps and Charts,” can also help.

  • What do you know about the history of the relationship between Russia and Ukraine? For example, was Ukraine once part of the Soviet Union? (This timeline can also help.)

  • What do you know about the political alliances in Europe right now? For instance, what is NATO, and is Ukraine a part of it?

  • What do you know about the economic relationships between Russia, Ukraine and the rest of the world? For instance, what important exports does Russia supply?

Once you have your list, take a look at the article we used for a Jan. 26 lesson plan, “How the Ukraine Crisis Developed, and Where It Might Be Headed.” Skim it to see how many of the items on your list are mentioned there. What more did you learn? What questions do you still have?

Read the article, then answer the following questions:

1. The article begins, “After months of troop and tank buildups, of grim warnings of violence and vague assurances of peace, and of efforts at diplomacy in Washington, the halls of the United Nations and the capitals of Europe, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began early Thursday morning.” Have you been aware of some of this? How much have you been following this story so far?

2. What does the article mean by calling the declaration by President Vladimir Putin of Russia “cynical” when it quotes his description of the invasion as a “special military operation” to “demilitarize” Ukraine but not occupy the country?

3. What is the state of the fighting? How are ordinary Ukrainians being affected? (Deeper answers to these questions, beyond what is in this overview, can be found in the Live Briefing.)

4. Why has Mr. Putin long sought control over Ukraine? What happened in 2008 and 2014 to complicate the situation?

5. Why does the prospect of Ukraine joining NATO infuriate Mr. Putin? (For more information, see this article.)

6. What events, starting last fall, led to the invasion on Feb. 24?

7. Ukraine, the United States and others have condemned Russia’s aggression and dismissed Mr. Putin’s justifications. What have they done in response so far?

First, we invite teenagers around the world to react to the attack on Ukraine in this forum. Post your own comment, or respond to the comments of others.

Then, because this is news story that will continue to develop, we recommend following it via these live updates. We also recommend delving into some of the history of the region in order to understand the roots of the invasion.

Students might choose an angle that especially interests them, and, via the links below and other news sources, learn as much as they can about it in order to report back to the class.

Here is a beginning list:

  • Economic Implications: President Biden has announced tough new sanctions aimed at cutting off Russia’s largest banks and some oligarchs from much of the global financial system and preventing the country from importing American technology critical to its defense, aerospace and maritime industries. Read about how sanctions work and what is at stake for the global economy. Check the live updates and find out: What other sanctions have been imposed by nations around the world? What economic implications has Russia’s attack had globally so far? What is SWIFT, and why is barring Russian banks from using it a powerful tool?

  • Historical Connections and Context: How has history influenced what is happening today, and how the world is responding? For instance, why might some be calling this conflict a “new Cold War”? Why might this war stir memories of past horrors for Ukraine’s Jews? Why is this invasion “unlike most wars in 80 years”? And why, according to four Times Opinion writers who discuss this situation via an audio roundtable, has “the world changed overnight”? What other historical roots and connections can you find?

  • Putin’s Rationale for the Attack: Mr. Putin has spun a narrative, much of which is fabricated or distorted, to justify Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Fact-check Mr. Putin’s claims about Ukrainian statehood, the country’s path to nuclear weaponsgenocide and more. Why might Mr. Putin make these baseless accusations? What might these invocations suggest about Russia’s goals, beyond war with Ukraine? Why does what he has said matter for the rest of the world? And how are Russian citizens reacting? (To track the invasion, follow these maps, which The Times continues to update.)

  • Global Response: How has the world responded to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine so far? How are Europeans reacting? What about Russian citizens? What role is the United States taking, and why? What implications might Russia’s relationship with China have for this conflict?

  • Life in Ukraine: What is it like to be in Eastern Ukraine right now as heavy fighting gets underway? This article, via pictures, descriptions of the lives of ordinary people, and even poetry, describes the moment. The video embedded above shows what it was like to be in the nation’s capital, Kyiv, as Russian troops advanced. The Feb. 24 edition of “The Daily” features live dispatches from Times correspondents in Ukraine as the attacks begin. And in a Feb. 25 Opinion piece, Veronika Melkozerova, a Ukrainian journalist, writes, “I’m in Kyiv, and It Is Terrifying.” What details in these stories stand out for you, and why? What can you glean about life in Ukraine, and how the invasion is changing it?

  • Beyond the Battlefield: How will the fallout of Russia’s attack affect the rest of the world? This article explains how, in addition to the anticipated bloodshed, the invasion could spur a rise in energy costs, Russian cyberattacks, a new refugee crisis in Europe and more. In what ways might the invasion affect you, the communities you’re a part of, or other ordinary people around the globe?

  • Chernobyl: Russia’s Defense Ministry said in a statement on Feb. 25 that its paratroopers had taken control of the territory around the former Chernobyl nuclear plant in northern Ukraine and were working with Ukrainian guards to ensure the safety of its facilities, contradicting Ukrainian claims that Russian forces were holding the plant’s personnel hostage. Chernobyl was the scene of the worst nuclear accident in history, when an explosion and fire in 1986 destroyed one of the plant’s reactors. The two countries have made opposing statements about what is happening there. Why are Ukrainian officials concerned? Read this article to learn more.

  • Your Choice: As this news develops, there will be a growing number of related effects to investigate, understand and help explain to others. Continue to keep up with the news, whether via Times live updates or any other reliable source.

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