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Akron teacher stays connected to students in Ukraine 1 year after war started

Student says missile strike missed husband by less than 1,000 feet
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Posted at 4:13 PM, Feb 24, 2023

AKRON, Ohio — An Akron man, who teaches English as a second language, is staying connected with some of his students in Ukraine who continue to face uncertainty one year after the war started.

Mark Merzweiler, 62, was in Ukraine when Russia invaded in 2022. A few weeks later, he reluctantly decided to fly home after helping a Ukrainian teacher and her friend get out of he country.

Merzweiler is helping dozens of Ukrainians improve their English vocabulary through online classes. He said 10 of his students stayed in Ukraine. About 40 other students left for other countries as the war continued.

"I love teaching them because they're just people who want to improve their lives. They work hard all day and then they come to study English and I can't admire that enough," Merzweiler said.

One of the students who chose to stay in her native country is 27-year-old Nastiya Khamurda, who lives in the city of Dnipro. Merzweiler helps Khamurda match definitions and perfect words while reading stories.

Dnipro is not the area hit hardest by the Russian military. However, dozens of people have been killed in the city and multiple buildings have been destroyed by missiles.

"There are random missile attacks from time to time, so apparently you never know which building is next. I personally know people who were killed," Khamurda said.

Khamurda said her husband was driving on a road last summer when a missile landed less than 1,000 feet from him.

"He's okay. He wasn't hurt, but it was pretty scary and I heard that one. I was on the phone with him," she said.

Despite the ongoing fear, Khamurda said her family, which also includes her mother and grandmother, have no plans to leave Ukraine.

She stressed that even while her country is under attack, no one can take away her knowledge and her desire to learn. She didn't hold back when asked how she felt about Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"I despise him. I hate him," she said.

Merzweiler said teaching virtually isn't the same as in person, but he's glad to still have a connection to students that mean a lot to him.

He continues to worry about the state of Ukraine, and like Khamurda, worries about the possibility of Russian spring offensive.

"What is going to be left of that place? It's just horrible," Merzweiler said.

Throughout the turmoil, the teacher continues to admire the resiliency of the Ukrainian people.

"These people are just begging and scratching and working their tails off to try to keep their heads above water," he said.

Merzweiler has plans to travel to other countries to teach English and hopes to return to Ukraine one day so he can teach his student in classrooms again.

"I'd go back to Ukraine tomorrow if I could," he said.

Khamurda looks for reasons to stay positive and was heartened by President Biden's surprise visit to Ukraine this week.

"Everyone was real thrilled to him in Kiev and it was really unexpected," she said.

Unexpected is a word that sums up how many in Ukraine have felt over the last year. For Khamurda, the hope is the war will be over by next year, if not sooner.

"I really hope that it will end as soon as possible because it just can't go on any longer," she said. "I hope that all countries from the civilized world understand that it should not be happening and I really hope that we can all unite."

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