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Matthew Kenenitz Biography
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It’s 10:00 a.m. m. Saturday and English teacher Matthew Kenenitz is sitting in a pierogi cafe in rural Pennsylvania making video calls on Whatsapp, trying to communicate with his teenage students in Ukraine.
A few weeks ago, he would have been in class teaching them in the western city of Lviv, less than 50 miles from the Polish border.
A student, 17-year-old Maksym, answers the teacher’s call. “I’m stressed and sad,” he tells Kenenitz. He and his family are safe for now, but he fears what will come next.
Enter a text from another student. He says, ‘Hearing the fourth air siren of the day, we’re headed to the shelter.’
“I tell them that they need to sleep in shifts in case something happens,” says Kenenitz, 40, who has been teaching English to university students in Lviv since 2019.
Rosemarie Duda, 84 says Putin’s attack on her ancestral homeland feels like Stalin all over again
A third-generation Ukrainian whose grandfather was a coal miner, Kenenitz feels deeply connected to the nation’s culture and history. And he’s not alone in Pennsylvania’s Schuylkill County in that regard.
Schuylkill is home to the highest percentage of people claiming Ukrainian ancestry in the entire United States. Beginning in the 1870s, the first influx were farmland workers from western Ukraine who settled near Pennsylvania’s steel and coal mining regions.
Between the two world wars, a second wave came as they escaped a Stalinist-induced famine. In the 1940s, more arrived as Europe was torn apart by World War II, according to the Center for Ukrainian Heritage Studies at Manor Junior College.
A fourth migration occurred in the 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union.
“It’s so deeply interwoven, from the expressions we use in English to food and the way we celebrate holidays, greetings and church,” said Paula Duda-Holoviak, friend of Kenenitz and founder and co-director of Kazka Ukranian. Folk ensemble.
She was one of many in the community who pressured Kenenitz to leave Ukraine earlier this month amid mounting security threats. Since his return, Kenenitz said he is afraid to go to sleep at night.
As an educator, Kenenitz said his mission has always been to help provide a better life for his students, “to ensure their success,” but now he feels he has failed in his mission because of “one person’s uncontrolled cruelty.” ‘
“Vladimir Putin,” he says, with tears in his eyes.
The deep emotional ties to Ukraine is something that Duda-Holoviak understands well.
“We refer to non-Ukrainians as Americans,” she says. But, of course, we are Americans. We are our little town. As a child at age 5, Holoviak, now 58, said she learned to write Cyrillic before she was taught English.
Today she says that her two children, 19 and 13 years old, are more Ukrainian than her. My sons are making plans to go to the Ukraine to fight. I say go ahead. They want to be heroes,’ she said with a smile.
“Seeing the war in Ukraine, seeing the damage, is heartbreaking and meaningless. The Ukrainians are winning, holding off the mighty Russian army. You cannot subdue the people, you will not break the back of the [Ukrainian] people,” adds Duda-Holoviak.
Outside St. Michael’s Ukrainian Church in Frackville on Sunday morning, 85-year-old Paul Hancher comes to pray for the beleaguered nation.
‘Ukraine, it’s in my blood. My father was from the Ukraine,” Hancher said. ‘All we can do is pray for them, apart from sacrificing ourselves there, that’s all.’
Another parishioner named Stan said that he joined the US Army at 17 and that it is time for the US to crack down on Ukraine. There are people like me, old warriors who are ready to go. It’s time, whether it’s economic pressure or military pressure. The time for talking is over,” he said.
Reverend Petro Zvarych, who heads the church, opened with a prayer for his country, fearful for many in his family, including his sister and father, who live in Lviv.