Thinking Citizen Blog — Ukraine (Part I): What Should Every 5th Grader Know? 8th Grader? 12th Grader?

Thinking Citizen Blog — Monday is Foreign Policy Day

Today’s Topic: Ukraine (Part I): What Should Every 5th Grader Know? 8th Grader? 12th Grader?

I remember one thing about the Ukraine from 3rd grade geography class: “the bread basket of the Soviet Union.” The overwhelming fact about the Ukraine I remember from writing a doctoral dissertation on World War II is that over a million Ukrainian Jews were killed by Nazi Einsatzgruppen between 1941 and 1944. Why were there so many Jews in the Ukraine? The Ukraine constituted the bulk of the “Pale of Settlement” (the western portion of the Russian Empire to which Jews were largely confined between 1791 to 1917). Since World War II, the Ukraine has, until recently, been most known as the site of the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. The only other thing I remember is some association between the Ukraine and the massacre of kulaks and cossacks under Stalin. This morning I decided to learn a bit more, refresh my memory, and share a few highlights with you. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.


1. Was the “Soviet famine of 1932–3” really deliberate?

2. Death tolls range broadly from 4 to 7 million, and more narrowly from 3.3 to 5 million. Numbers as high as ten million come from adding 6 million birth deficits to 4 million direct deaths.

3. The fourth Saturday of every November is celebrated in the Ukraine as “Holodomor Memorial Day.”

NB: “In a November 2021 poll, 85% agreed that the Holdomor was a genocide of Ukrainians.” In 2006, the Polish Senate declared the “Holodomor” an act of genocide. Similar resolutions were adopted by the US Congress and Senate in 2018.


1. Geography: the second largest country in Europe after Russia (233,000 square miles versus 210,000 for France, 173,000 for Sweden, 148,000 for Norway, 137,000 for Germany). The major rivers are the Dnieper, the Donets, the Dniester, and the Southern Bug.

2. Demographics: 43 MM, 8th largest in Europe (8th largest if include Turkey, 7th if you don’t) Spain is just above Ukraine in ranking at 47 million, Poland just below at 38 million). The population has been in decline since a peak of 52 million in 1992. Ethnic Russians constitute 17% of the population but 29% of the population consider Russian their native tongue. My understanding is that written Russian and Ukrainian is 85% mutually intelligible but spoken only about 50% — perhaps comparable to Spanish and Portuguese.

3. Economics: one of world’d leading grain exporters but a relatively poor European country with a nominal GDP per capita of $4380 versus $46,344 for the UK, $14,988 for Romania, $11,321 for Bulgaria, and $81,995 for Norway.

NB: The largest cities are Kyiv (2.9 milllion), Kharkiv (1.4 million), Odessa (1.0 million). Dnipro (.98 million).


1. This despite the fact the deep Ukrainian ties of many Soviet leaders from Khrushchev to Brezhnev and Gorbachev. Remember that in 1954 Khrushchev transferred the Crimea from the Russian Soviet Republic to the Ukrainian Soviet Republic. (See fourth link)

2. The independent Ukrainian political system has been rated among the more corrupt in the world. Transparency International gives it a rating of 32 and a world ranking of 122 that is compared to for example Denmark at 88 (ranked #1) and South Sudan at 11 and the bottom ranking of 180.

3. Nearby in the rankings are Egypt at 33 (rank: 117) and Mexico at 31 (rank: 124). Russia is at 29 (rank: 136).

Holodomor — Wikipedia

How Joseph Stalin Starved Millions in the Ukrainian Famine

How Ukrainian-origin leaders dominated the Soviet Union

The Holocaust in Ukraine — Wikipedia

Pale of Settlement — Wikipedia

Dekulakization — Wikipedia

De-Cossackization — Wikipedia

Holodomor Genocide Memorial — Wikipedia,_Kyiv

Kyiv Pechersk Lavra — Wikipedia

Corruption Perceptions Index — Wikipedia

Two special attachments below:

#1 A graphic guide to justice (9 metaphors on one page).

#2 “39 Songs, Prayers, and Poems: the Keys to the Hearts of Seven Billion People” — Adams House Senior Common Room Presentation, 11/17/20Here is a link to the last four years of posts organized by theme: (including the book on foreign policy)

PDF with headlines — Google Drive


The Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) is an index which ranks countries “by their perceived levels of public se…

The Pale of Settlement included all of modern-day Belarus, Lithuania and Moldova, much of Ukraine and east-centr…

Please share the coolest or most important thing you learned in the last week, month, or year related to foreign policy. Or, even better, the coolest or most important thing you learned in our life related to foreign policy.

This is your chance to make someone else’s day. And to consolidate in your memory something important you might otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply than otherwise about something dear to your heart. Continuity is the key to depth of thought. The prospect of imminent publication, like hanging and final exams, concentrates the mind. A useful life long habit.

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