A History Teacher Straight Out of The Soviet Union

Ryan Vespi and Murphy Foss

Staff Writers

Social studies teacher Vitaliy Yanchuk is a very unique, yet textbook example of an immigrant success story. Born under the control of the communist Soviet Union, his family fled to the United States to escape oppression, though his parents brought him here, Mr. Yanchuk’s hard work, dedication, and intelligence took him to the Jamesville-DeWitt community.

Mr. Yanchuck was born in western Ukraine in 1989, at a time when Ukraine was controlled by the Soviet regime. “When I tell my students that I was born in the Soviet Union they have a hard time believing it,” said Mr. Yankchuk. This was verified by freshman Harry McTernan; “when Mr. Yanchuk told me he was from the Soviet Union I was shocked, I know about how poorly the Soviets treated Ukrainians, so I was very surprised that he made it to where he is today.”

Mr. Yanchuk and his family fled Ukraine in 1992 when Yanchuk was 3 years old. His family wanted to escape so they could have religious and other freedoms that the Soviet Union forbid. His family moved to the United States and ended up in Cortland, New York, where Mr. Yanchuk grew up. “Adjusting to the U.S. was not easy,” said Mr. Yanchuk, “Neither my parents nor I knew English.” After only being in the U.S. for two years, Mr. Yanchuk had to overcome many more challenges in addition to the language barrier in kindergarten and all throughout elementary school.

As Mr. Yanchuk moved on through school, his future started to come into view. “I trace my desire to become a teacher to the 5th grade,” said Mr. Yanchuk. He says he was fascinated by the 2000 U.S. general election and the republican primary election process as well as the transfer of power in Russia from Boris Yeltsin to Vladimir Putin, which also took place in 2000. “I fell in love with current events, history, and government,” said Mr. Yanchuk.

Mr. Yanchuk would take this passion to college, where he graduated from SUNY Cortland with his bachelor’s degree in Adolescence Education: Social Studies and Political Science. He went on to get his masters degree in Public Administration from Cornell University. These degrees give him a good background in both politics and teaching kids.

This year is Mr. Yanchuk’s first at Jamesville-DeWitt High School and his first year as a full-time teacher, and so far he is very happy to be here, “J-D is a true family,” said Mr. Yanchuk, “The family atmosphere is what I like most about J-D.” Mr. Yanchuk feels his greatest challenge is to make sure his students are being challenged on a daily basis, “Let me say that (my first year at J-D has been) better than my first year of elementary school.”

Mr. Yanchuk’s students believe he is doing a good job teaching Global 9 and 10 this year. “He’s friendly to everyone,” said freshman Eva Wisniewski, “he’s not as strict and he helps us out alot.”  Students also say that he is known for starting friendly conversation and he asks everyone how they are doing each day. “He tells a lot of jokes,” said freshman Bryan Fennell, “he’s a funny guy.”

Mr. Yanchuk is also known for his unique teaching style and ability to connect with students. “He really involves kids,” said sophomore Jakob Ellithorpe, “He doesn’t just lecture on, he talks to you and asks questions, just like he’s having a conversation with you.”

Mr. Yanchuk’s birthplace is in a lot of turmoil right now, as fighting rages on across the country between Russian-backed communist separatists and West-supported government forces. A Russian invasion and later annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in 2014, which is an important resource for Ukrainian trade and their military, has sparked even more tension in the region. “It is unfortunate that something of this nature would happen,” said Mr. Yanchuk, “The people and economies of both countries have suffered immensely as a result of the conflict.”

Mr. Yanchuk says he will return to Ukraine to visit family this summer, but he is really glad to be where his is now at J-D, “The faculty, staff, and students are of the highest caliber,” said Mr. Yanchuk. One thing is for sure: J-D is glad to have him. “Mr. Yanchuk is in early every day, (he) stays late,” said social studies teacher David Bunyan, “He is interested to improve himself and do good things for students.”