U.S. ambassador to Russia gives history class insight on Russia, Ukraine

When David Stark, professor of history, was preparing to teach a segment on Russia and Ukraine for his undergraduate World Civilizations class, he knew just the person to add key insight.

He reached out to John Sullivan, U.S. ambassador to Russia, to see if Sullivan could join the class via Zoom from Moscow. Sullivan, who is married to Stark's cousin, readily agreed in a session that came together at the last minute.

"I just thought, 'Why not? All he can say is no,'" Stark said. "There's no better way for students to learn and cultivate their global thinking skills than to hear from this expert."

A person is talking while being viewed on a computer screen. A keyboard is in the foreground.
John Sullivan, U.S. ambassador to Russia, joined a GVSU history class from Russia via Zoom.
Image credit - Courtesy photo

Sullivan, a regular interview subject for media outlets, provided important insight to the students, including the most up-to-date information regarding the Russian invasion of Ukraine as well as historical context to help explain current events, Stark said.

Stark said Sullivan, who has met Russian President Vladimir Putin, also discussed with students Putin's background and influences to help broaden their perspective.

Students were engaged and asked questions, particularly about the plight of Ukrainians. Sullivan provided the latest numbers on Ukrainians who have left the country, Stark said.

The discussion with Sullivan amplified material that students had prepared to learn about czarist Russia and figures such as Peter the Great and Catherine the Great.

Stark said he asked students to share their thoughts after the discussion. "I was struck by a lot of the responses. A lot of the students were very much interested in the number of people fleeing Ukraine, about mothers leaving with their children and family members staying behind to fight," he said.

He also noted that another student wondered what Sullivan has experienced personally living in Moscow in these difficult circumstances and separated from his family. Stark was impressed that the student recognized this sacrifice and took into account the humanity of the role Sullivan is carrying out.


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