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

Mark Merzweiler heard bombing first night of war
Re Channel 5 interview.jpeg
Posted at 5:05 PM, Mar 08, 2022

AKRON, Ohio — Mark Merzweiler is hanging onto hope that bombs won't explode near the apartment in Ukraine where he has been living since last year, but as the war intensifies, he also realizes his safety is no guarantee.

"For some bizarro reason, I'm immune to it. Now, I know the very first shell that lands outside my building will end that. But maybe way down deep inside, I'm afraid. On the surface, I keep telling myself, you should be afraid, but right now, it's okay," Merzweiller told News 5 during an interview over Zoom.

Merzweiler believes Vladimir Putin is "a madman" whose actions could destroy both Ukraine and Russia.

"It's kind of like watching a slow strangulation happen," he said.

Merzweiler, 61, is a native of Fairlawn. He attended Walsh Jesuit High School where he played football and was involved in theater. He graduated from the school in Cuyahoga Falls in 1979.

For many years, he has taught English as a second language— mostly to adults— in countries around the world.

mark in suit in Saudi Arabia.JPG
Mark Merzweiler in Saudi Arabia.

He arrived in Ukraine in April of 2021 and has developed an affinity for the people in the country.

"As soon as I got here, this place agreed with me, so all the people are wonderful. I will put them first among equals," he said.

However, when the Russian invasion began, his teaching stopped.

Merzweiler is living in Dnipro, the fourth-largest city in Ukraine, located a few hours from Kharkiv, which has been under a fierce assault. Thus far, he has only heard one blast near Dnipro.

"We've had air raid sirens that we've had. The only bombing I've heard was the very first night. It was like a military airport close to the city."

Merzweiler feels the size of Dnipro could make it a potential target for Putin in the near future.

"So either A: the troops in Kharkiv will get to us or (B) the Russian army pushing up from the south will get to us, one or the other. So I figure we got about another week," he said.

Despite that frightening assessment, Merzweiler has no plans to leave the country he has grown to love —at least for now.

"Somewhere, I've got this delusional hope that it's gonna stop," he said. "Russia can take Ukraine. They can't hold Ukraine."

Merzweiler said he continues to be amazed by the resolve of the Ukrainian people and by the strength and determination of Ukrainian soldiers.

"Aren't they unbelievable? I mean, how do you categorize courage like that? I want to first of all thank the brave soldiers in Kyiv and Kharkiv because they are the ones shielding us. They're taking the heat."

Merzweiler said many of the streets around him are "pretty vacant" and he's aware that about two million Ukrainians have fled the country.

"I have delusions of bravery. We'll see what happens when the bombing starts. I might be the first guy on that train. I don't know," he said.

In the meantime, he will continue to hope for peace and to get back to doing what he loves.

"I want to go back to teaching my students," he said.