What Do Young Ukrainians Associate with War? Insights into a Pedagogical Project to Expand Historical Narratives

300 students‘ essays published online | Photo: NOVA DOBA
300 students‘ essays published online | Photo: NOVA DOBA

War is a present concept in the Ukraine today due to the ongoing armed conflicts in the eastern part of the country and the annexation of the Crimea. Additionally, like many other European countries, Ukraine still faces the issue of coming to terms with the complex past and especially the long shadows of World War II. Until today, dominant narratives from the time of the Soviet Union are present, focusing on the great victory, heroisation or the cult of leaders. In the case of Ukraine, a strong notion of forced labourers labelled as collaborators or traitors of the Soviet people is still present, which is strongly linked to ethnic paradigms.

This is the framework in which NOVA DOBA, the All-Ukrainian Association of Teachers of History, Civic Education and Social Studies situated in Lviv, launched the project »(No) War Heroes. Reinforcement of the history of Ukrainian Forced Labourers and Prisoners of the World War II in the historical narrative of Ukraine«. It aimed at providing occasions as well as teaching material for a multiperspective reflection of the topic including notions of Holocaust, flight, collaboration, resistance as well as nationalisms and ethnic conflicts, starting from individual biographies. To meet the challenge to include the current violent conflict with Russia on Ukrainian territory, NOVA DOBA developed an innovative approach for their students’ history competition, organising a multi-stage project where students’ essays are produced in an early stage of the project instead of forming the final result. This specific project design was chosen in order to integrate current images, notions and sentiments about soldiers, war and prisoners present among Ukrainian students that could be reflected on in later phases of the project.

The results of the two year project phase were presented on 12 October 2017 during a conference in Kiev. The NOVA DOBA team together with experts developed a multi-chapter online manual on the historical events of World War II with the topic of the prisoners of war as one of its key elements. The main objective of the project was to encourage students to create a more balanced and less prejudiced view of the events of World War II, which they tried to achieve by breaking new grounds.

One the one hand they developed the online history manual that does not only speak to the current age of digitalisation but is further based on a diverse set of methodological points of reference. Furthermore, the team provided teaching material to be used for World War II curriculum work. Together with experts from different scientific fields a proposal for a lesson was produced aiming at catching the students’ attention by starting off with a set of source material and questions from different times and historical backgrounds showing war prisoners. The students were asked to write essays reflecting on the diverse sources, questions and narratives offered by the online platform. This allows the teachers to include students’ experiences, attitudes, assumptions and first impressions and to take it as starting point for a joint reflection of this historical topic.

To exemplify and evaluate this process, NOVA DOVA has published a sample of students’ reflections on the element of war prisoners on their website, together with the set of images that were used as the primary reference. The material is only available in Ukrainian; however one translated example in English can be found here (PDF).

EUSTORY supported NOVA DOBA’s project which was funded by the German EVZ Foundation.

For more details see project report by NOVA DOBA.

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