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GLOBAL SLOVAKIA IN UKRAINE

We recently had the pleasure and honor to connect with the Slovak community in Uzhhorod on the border of Slovakia and Ukraine.

The entire visit, under the auspices of the Office for Slovaks Living Abroad, was dedicated to the youth.



Having crossed the border to Ukraine peacefully, we arrived in Uzhhorod, one of the major cities of Carpathian Ruthenia (also known as Transcarpathia). A joke runs among the locals that speaks of a man who went to kindergarten in Austria- Hungary, elementary school in Czechoslovakia, high school in Hungary, and graduated from university in the Soviet Union. He managed to do all that without ever leaving Uzhhorod. The joke sums up the complex and complicated recent history of Carpathian Ruthenia and Uzhhorod.

Uzhhorod and the entire Carpathian Ruthenia once belonged to the empire of Austria Hungary.

Then it became a part of Czechoslovakia in 1920, which marked a period of growth and prosperity for Uzhhorod, a legacy immortalized in the beautiful architecture of the old town center.

The era of Czechoslovak democracy brought development to the city – new offices, schools and residential quarters were built in the town, in the iconic elegant style of the First Republic. It is no wonder that the existence within Czechoslovakia is a cherished memory.

Locals still refer to parts of the city as Little Prague and reminisce about the golden era of the benevolent President Masaryk. And indeed, the glory days of Uzhhorod can still be glimpsed in the sophisticated architecture and the longest Linden Alley in Europe! It is 2.2 km long and it was planted on the 10th anniversary of Czechoslovakia in 1928.




However, this period of prosperity was short. The Munich Agreement ended the existence of Czechoslovakia in 1938, and the fascist Slovak State was founded shortly after that in the spring of 1939. Carpathian Ruthenia declared a short-lived independence before being annexed by Hungary. After WW 2, the region became a part of the Soviet Union.

The changes created an artificial political divide between people in eastern Slovakia and those in Carpathian Ruthenia. They had lived in one country for centuries - first in the Kingdom of Hungary, then in the Empire of Austria-Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Nevertheless, the shared existence translated into a special bond that is still alive and well.

The region is still home to a resilient Slovak and Rusyn community. Slovak is taught at select schools in Uzhhorod, but also in other towns and in villages which maintain and protect the Slovak culture, and its roots in Carpathian Ruthenia.



We had the privilege to visit one such exceptional school in Uzhhorod on the last school day of the year. Although the war in the eastern parts of the country does not leave western Ukraine unaffected, life goes on in the city and the region.

 

Pupils, students and parents gathered to celebrate the youth and to share joy and prayers for peace.

 

It was humbling to observe and be part of their celebration of life, to see and feel their hope, tenaciousness and gratitude. A particularly emotional moment came when the graduates were parting with their carefree childhood, the school and their teacher as they stepped into adulthood in these uncertain times.



The closeness of war and its impact also on this -thus far peaceful part of Ukraine, encourages people to strengthen their community and protect their values and ideals. The speeches of the students, teachers and parents were overflowing with love, hope and appreciation of friendship and mutual support.

Many shed a tear as the blue and yellow balloons rose to the sky among the prayers for a peaceful future.





May these books bring hope, inspiration and encouragement to the passionate teachers and their eager to learn students.

Filled with enthusiasm and determination, the Slovak community of Subcarpathian Rus marches to the rhythm of its own drum.

We are thankful for the opportunity to share time with these exceptional people.





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