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Local teacher returns home from Ukraine as war intensifies

Posted at 6:28 PM, Mar 23, 2022

AKRON, Ohio — After an exhausting several day of traveling from Ukraine, to Poland, and finally back home to Akron, Mark Merzweiler enjoyed a caffeine boost at Angel Falls Coffee Company in Highland Square.

Merzweiler, 61, spent nearly a year teaching English as second language to Ukrainians. He was happy to be home, but also felt somewhat guilty leaving a country he grew to love.

"It's more difficult to be away," Merzweiler said.

Merzweiler fought through tears as he discussed the sympathy he feels for the Ukrainian people facing the daily uncertainty of war since the invasion by Russia.

"People who wanted to improve their lives. They worked hard all day, came to my class at night because they believed in their future and somebody took it away from them," said.

News 5 first spoke with Merzweiler via Zoom two weeks ago while he was in Dnipro, the fourth-largest city in Ukraine. At the time, the teacher expressed concerns that Russian troops were advancing towards Dnipro and said the war was like watching "a slow strangulation."

Despite the risk, Merzweiler said he didn't want to leave, but when a Ukrainian teacher and her friend made the decision to get out of the country, he decided to go with them. The trio waited for a train for hours as more people continued to flee.

"We're standing in line because we just don't know when the next train is going to come by, so we stand there for two and a half hours. The air raid sirens are going," he said.

Eventually, they made it to Poland. Merzweiler would later learn that the war had indeed come to Dnipro.

"They were bombed. They were like hit with three bombs the day after I left, but none of them were close by where I was," Merzweiler said.

Merzweiler, who grew up in Fairlawn and graduated from Walsh Jesuit High School, said the images of the Ukrainian soldiers will stick with him for a long time.

"I saw the looks on soldiers' faces and there was no fear. They were just, we hate these guys and we will fight until the bitter end."

While Merzweiler didn't witness any of the devastations from the bombings, he feels he was close enough and his heart hurts for the students he taught.

"I never had another job like it," he said.

Merzweiler will need some time to adjust to living back in the Akron area. He plans to work out at a gym, work on a book he's writing and look for other job opportunities.

He can only hope to go back to Ukraine one day.

"I'd love to. I'd love to go back. I'd do it in a heartbeat."

RELATED: Northeast Ohio native teaching in Ukraine says invasion seems like 'a slow strangulation'