Ukraine Special Dispatch: Reflection Questions
Ukraine Special Dispatch March 2022
The pieces in this journal demonstrate and speak to the power of writing to forge connection, foster unity, and work towards change. The following prompts invite you to reflect, write, and discuss issues of equity, migration, access, peace, and action. Write the World invites young writers ages 13-18 to share their responses to these prompts in a designated writing group, “Ukraine Dispatches: War, Migration, and More,” and connect with other teens through peer review. If you are a teacher using these materials in the classroom, we’d love to hear from you; reach out to Write the World’s Education Program Manager Brittany Collins at Brittany@WritetheWorld.com to share your story.
Prompt 1: Bringing Light to Brave Stories
PORTRAITURE—Lift up a migration story that the world needs to hear.
In “refugee,” Varvara writes:
“and somehow i was lucky.
…‘yes, lucky’, you’d agree.
and i’d say: ‘yes, a refugee’.”
Varvara’s narrative captures her experience waking up at five o’clock in the morning to a phone call from a friend saying that Russian forces had bombed an airport near their dorm in Ukraine. Varvara’s memory of this moment illustrates a pivotal “before/after” that is reminiscent of other migration stories—of the ways in which crisis enters the quotidian and alters our present, our future; for example, Mulu, an Ethiopian woman who fled war in Tigray and settled in a refugee camp in Sudan with her family, recalls: “I was baking injera [flatbread] when the war began.”
In recent years, amid the pressures of violence, inequity, and the environmental stressors posed by an ever-warming world, migration has become increasingly precarious. The Refugee Council of Australia, for example, wrote: “UNHCR most recently estimated that, by the end of 2020, for the first time in recorded history, the number of people forcibly displaced [was] 82.4 million, and over 26.4 million refugees,” numbers that equate to 1% of the global population and that do not include the more than 2.5 million people who have fled Ukraine as of mid-March, 2022, nor the many other people around the world who were forced to emigrate or flee in the past two years.
Dear readers, what can we learn from stories like Varvara’s and Mulu’s? How do their deeply human reflections shed light on what it means to be a global citizen in this historical moment? What do their stories make you feel—and wonder? Take a few minutes to write, think about, and/or discuss these questions and your reaction to Varvara’s writing. Next, utilize your research skills to uncover a story of migration, from anywhere in the world, that speaks to you—one that you feel the world needs to hear. Pen a journalistic portrait drawing from the sources that you uncover to tell the story of another’s journey, in its complexities and urgencies, challenges and contradictions, hopes and fears.
Prompt 2: Defining Moments
REFLECTION—Writing the “both/and.”
In “Trying to Escape,” Yelyzaveta takes inventory of her harrowing journey in the following concluding paragraphs:
“Two hours of sleep. Three air raids. Children who seem to be already accustomed to running to the basement of the nearest school. I'm shaking, but still here. I have to find transport to the border. I learn that a started engine sometimes sounds like sirens.
…It takes seven hours on foot to reach the border. I climb over the fence of the checkpoint, push through the crowd of foreigners and a burnt-out fire next to the Polish line. I feel cold everywhere. But I have made it. I go to the nearest refugee camp and there I finally cry. Life will never be the same.”
In these reflections, Yelyzaveta holds space for recognition and grief (“Life will never be the same”) while also claiming the complexities of what she deems a “lucky” journey (“I’m shaking, but still here”).
For five minutes, write about a moment in your own life when you experienced a “both/and” moment, holding within yourself a contradiction, or what author Parker Palmer calls “opposite truths” —relief and grief, happiness and hauntedness, aspiration and doubt, hope and despair. What did this moment look, sound, and feel like? What did you learn from it? What about it has stayed with you or shaped who you’ve become?
Next, return to Yelyzaveta’s words for inspiration and draw connections between her narrative and another historical or contemporary story of migration—Anne Frank’s entries in The Diary of a Young Girl, for example, or Malala Yousafzai’s reflections in I Am Malala, or a newspaper article from your corner of the globe. In a piece of comparative prose, compare and contrast these works (Yelyzaveta’s and a historical or contemporary narrative of your choosing) to illuminate connections to current events. In doing so, you might consider:
What similarities do you notice between the two narratives? What connections can you make between the voices and/or tone present in both stories?
Thinking about contrast rather than connection, what about the speakers’ experiences, perspectives, and positionalities are uniquely theirs?
What sources, direct quotations, images, statistics, or other forms of documentation bring these stories to life most vividly, and why?
Prompt 3: Fighting Pushback
OPINION—Inequity, technology, and the world we imagine.
“I am now in another country, a thousand kilometers from the war, in warmth and comfort, while my family is in the basement of my school. I have lost my appetite and eat just porridge and meat. I have nightmares where I drown in the open ocean during a storm and suffocate.
…Thinking about the future is very difficult. My thoughts are filled with questions about how to get a job, where to find money, how to graduate from university and save my parents.
I pray that the war will end soon, my country will win the war and peace will come again, and that I will fall into the embrace of my family again. I believe that everything will be fine and I try to remain optimistic even at a time like this.”
These compelling words by Roman explore the deep pain of distance imposed by war. They also connect to stories of war-induced migration from the vantage point of a “successful” journey, meaning one in which an émigré reaches a semblance of safety; many journeys, however, do not result in such a conclusion. For example, Lauren Markham writes in this Pulitzer Center article about the numerous “pushbacks” that governments put in place, circumventing refugee laws, that result in “expulsions” (sending émigrés back to the countries from which they came, exiling émigrés on remote islands, using discriminatory practices and selectivity when allowing entrance, etc.). The following paragraphs highlight how one individual seeks to make change:
“Since international refugee law was first developed in the wake of World War II, there has largely been a shared global compact that countries should, morally and legally, protect those fleeing violence or persecution at home. The more than 2 million Ukrainian citizens who’ve fled Russia’s invasion have appropriately benefited from these agreements, though non-citizens, and particularly non-citizens of color, have been blocked from crossing those same borders—a familiar story of exclusion in Europe and elsewhere for refugees from the Global South. Today, the overlapping causes of mass migration—war, inequality, totalitarianism, climate change—mean more people are on the move than ever before. At the same time, more border walls are being built than at any time in modern history to stop these refugees in their tracks.
…Once a group contacts Tommy Olsen, the relentless activist who started the Aegean Boat Report in 2017, he collects their geodata and photos to confirm their whereabouts. He thinks one of the best ways to avoid pushbacks is for refugees to be seen by locals and publicly document their arrival. He gets calls practically every day; his phone number has been widely disseminated among refugee networks, and he even suspects that Turkish smugglers hand it out to engender false faith that there’s help on the other side.”
Technology, namely social media, can perpetuate harm through misinformation and weaponization, but can also offer utility: public rallying cries that drive support; a sense of witness, of audience, that can bolster migrants’ safety; documentation of evidence in the context of war crime. After reading Roman’s piece and considering the complexities of migration “pushback,” write a reflection piece or opinion editorial (Op-Ed) considering one of the following:
The role of technology in furthering divides and/or fostering change. You might consider: What is your perspective on the role of technology in our current events? How do you envision technology being utilized in the future? Does social media, in the context of a war, harm or heal? How does inequity lead to a lack of access to technology, and what implications does that disparity have in the context of war?
The complexities of migration “pushback.” Perhaps you will explore: What stories can you find about countries’ attempts to keep refugees from crossing their borders? How are activists and advocates, like Tommy Olsen, providing aid? What lies at the root of these barriers to entry? What might be a possible solution?
For both prompts, consider: what additional research might you do to further reinforce your view? What makes a source “credible,” and where (or to whom) might you turn to aid you in your research?
*Footnote: for more information on how to use social media safely in areas impacted by war, explore this article. And for a guide on following (dis)information and garnering reliable sources on the war, read this.
Prompt 4: The Helpers
FUTURE-DREAMING: Taking responsibility.
Diana writes in “Reconstruction,” “The Me before is now a stranger, the Me now is nobody, the Me in the future...Whom will I be? I look at a leaflet for the answer and read my own words: ‘Open your eyes. Take responsibility’. Printed on the paper, they feel so distant. But they are mine. One day, these words and the actions they lead to, will define who I am.”
Dear writers, take a moment to consider the question that Diana poses: Whom will [you] be? Reading the works compiled in this issue of Write the World Review calls to mind the quote from United States children’s television figure Fred Rogers, who said: “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
When you think about your present, your future, in relation to the local, national, and global communities that surround you, what goals, dreams, and hopes do you hold? When you “open your eyes,” in what ways do you aim to “take responsibility”? In what ways, as global citizens, can we work together to create the world we imagine?
For further inspiration, read this recent Write the World prompt highlighting how communities around the world are demonstrating solidarity in this time of global tumult.