Northwestern professors teach class about Ukraine’s fight for independence


Daily file photo by Jonah Elkowitz

According to the professors, students will learn about the history of Ukraine and factors energizing the conflict between Moscow and Kyiv.

Seren Park, Reporter

A new course at Northwestern helps students understand the Ukraine crisis by exploring Ukrainian historical perspectives.  

“Slavic 390: Ukraine’s Long Fight for Independence — Literature and Politics in Central and Eastern Europe” is taught by political science Prof. Jordan Gans-Morse, Ambassador in Residence Ian Kelly, and Jewish studies and history Prof. Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern. 

Gans-Morse, Kelly and Petrovsky-Shtern designed the course to combine their three areas of expertise: history, political science and international studies. Gans-Morse focuses on the domestic, political and economic aspects of post-Soviet Ukraine, Petrovsky-Shtern focuses on Ukrainian history up to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s term and Kelly teaches about US-Ukrainian and US-Russian relations.  

“In this generation, it’s going to be your responsibility to try to address the cracks in the international system that have been in place since World War Two,” Kelly said. “We’re going to need a new generation of policy makers for this tremendous challenge, not unlike the challenge that my predecessors faced in 1945.” 

The three professors have done extensive research on Ukraine, and while only Petrovsky-Shtern is originally from Ukraine, Kelly and Gans-Morse both hold personal connections to the country. Kelly was a former ambassador to Georgia who has worked throughout the region, and Gans-Morse spent significant time in Ukraine for research, and his wife also has relatives in Ukraine. 

“My hope is that we have a new generation of students coming out of universities who have greater interest in Eurasia, and more importantly, that students being introduced to this region are given a perspective that puts Ukraine at the center, especially in terms of the role of current events,” Gans-Morse said.

For many students, especially those who are being introduced to the region, the war in Ukraine can seem very distant from a Western point of view. 

Weinberg junior Christian Rodriguez said the course helps bring the Ukrainian conflict closer to students, and the professors are “brilliant” in explaining everything about Ukraine.

“This class serves a great purpose in bringing that conflict closer and being able to help people look at the war in a different lens than before,” Rodriguez said. 

The first half of the course focuses on the history of Ukraine, the formation of Ukrainian identity and how the culture incorporates different ethnic and religious backgrounds. The final class sessions will cover the origins of the war, developments since the start of the conflict and its consequences. 

For one of the course’s assignments, students will create a mock policy memo and present recommendations for how the U.S. and the international community can address the conflict in an interdisciplinary way. Students will form an argument about how the war can be brought to an end and how to address international security and Russia’s aggression. 

Rodriguez said the course’s discussion groups are engaging, and he appreciates working with the mix of Ukrainian and Russian international students as well as others from diverse majors and backgrounds. 

“Professor Gans-Morse, Ian Kelly, and Petrovsky-Shtern are all really engaging professors, and I think it’d be great if Northwestern had more collaborative courses like this in the future,” Rodriguez said. “This class provided a really great opportunity for students across majors to come together and gave a thorough insight into politics.”

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