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Internet Encyclopedia of Ukraine Features: The History of Ukrainians in Slovakia

Marko R. Stech (Toronto)

October 2014

The first consistent documentation about the Presov region within today’s Slovakia dates from the 14th century, coinciding with the settlement of this sparsely populated area. Ukrainian colonization came from two directions: southeast (Transcarpathia) and north (Galicia). The heaviest Ukrainian immigration dates from the 16th century, when many new villages in the region were established. In the 16th and 17th centuries the Presov region came under control of the Catholic Habsburg dynasty, and Transcarpathia came under Protestant Transylvania. The Ukrainians in the Presov region were thus cut off from their brethren just to the east. The situation strengthened their contact northward with the diocese of Peremyshl, and by the mid-18th century all the Ukrainian villages in the region had become Greek Catholic. The renewal of Habsburg authority in the 18th century resulted in an improvement in the status of the Ukrainian clergy and a general cultural development. Numerous churches were constructed throughout the Presov region; those built entirely of wood still represent some of the finest achievements of Ukrainian church architecture. The first publications for Ukrainians also date from the period. The political changes that resulted from the 1867 Ausgleich that created the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy had a profound effect on Ukrainian life in the region. The Hungarians suppressed the rights of the Ukrainian national minority and by the 1870s no Ukrainian institutions or publications remained in the Presov region. At the time of the First World War there were no secondary schools and only a few elementary schools where the native language was used. The Ukrainian church hierarchy and secular intelligentsia had been completely Magyarized. Although Ukrainian life experienced a notable renaissance during the interwar era in the newly formed Czechoslovakia, the residents of the region, having had no experience comparable to the blossoming of Ukrainian civic culture in Galicia during the 19th century or to the struggle for independence in central Ukraine, largely rejected a Ukrainophile orientation. The local intelligentsia urged the people instead to identify themselves as Ruthenians (Rusyny). For the duration of the Second World War most of the Presov region was under the control of a state governed by Slovaks in Bratislava. The government aimed to Slovakize all aspects of the country and targeted the Ukrainians of the Presov region. However, after the war, the Czechoslovak Communist government, following the Soviet model in Transcarpathia, for several decades promoted a Ukrainian identity and cultural orientation in the Presov region. Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution of 1989 profoundly changed life throughout the country. Communist rule came to an end and pluralism was implemented in political, cultural, and religious affairs. Since that time the Ukrainian intelligentsia of the Presov region has split into two factions: those who eschew the name Ukrainian and insist on calling themselves by the historical name Ruthenians (Rusyns), and those who favor a Ukrainian self-identification and closer ties with the newly independent Ukraine…

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SLOVAKIA. A republic in the southwestern Carpathian Mountains region, at around the midpoint of the Danube River Valley, bordering on Poland to the north, Hungary to the south, the Czech Republic to the west, and Ukraine to the east. Slovakia covers an area of 49,000 sq km and has a population of 5,415,949 (2013), of whom nearly 86 percent are Slovaks, 12 percent are Hungarians, and just over 1 percent are Czechs. Official figures (2011) indicate that 40,912 Ukrainians and Ruthenians live in the republic, although the actual number is probably somewhere between 130,000 and 145,000. The capital is Bratislava (2013 pop 462,603). Ukrainians and Slovaks share a 200 km-border in the Presov region, and both peoples have had similar social structures, daily life, language, and folk art. Both Slovaks and Ukrainians, especially those living in Transcarpathia and a small area of Galicia, also lived for a long period of time under Hungarian rule. Important trade routes that tied Ukraine to eastern, central, and western Europe have passed through Slovakia since the Middle Ages. Itinerant Slovak merchants and tradesmen traveled to Kyivan Rus’. A number of leading Transcarpathian clergymen studied in the 18th century at the theological seminary in Trnava. The first Slovak scholars to develop a serious interest in Ukraine were Jan Kollar (1793-1852) and Pavel Safarik (1795-1861). They maintained direct contact with Ukrainian activists and supported the development of the Ukrainian national revival. Safarik was one of the first Europeans to come out in defense of Ukrainian national, linguistic, and cultural autonomy…

Stara Lubovna castle and museum

Stara Lubovna castle and museum

PRESOV REGION. An area within the northeastern part of Slovakia inhabited by Ukrainians. The region has never had a distinct legal or administrative status, so the term Presov region–also Presov Rus’–is encountered only in writings about the area. The name derives from the city of Presov (Ukrainian: Priashiv), which since the early 19th century has been the religious and cultural center for the region’s Ukrainians. The alternate term, Presov Rus’, reflects the fact that until the second half of the 20th century the East Slavic population there referred to itself exclusively by the historic name Ruthenian (Rusyn), or by its regional variant, Rusnak. At present the Presov region is administratively part of Slovakia. The area inhabited by Ukrainians consists of about 300 villages located within the northernmost portions of the counties of Stara L’ubovna, Bardejov, Svydnyk, Presov, and, in particular, Humenne. In 1991, 32,400 inhabitants in the Presov region designated their national identity as Ruthenian (Rusyn) or Ukrainian, although unofficial sources estimate their number could be as high as 130,000 to 140,000. The Ukrainians inhabit a small strip of territory that somewhat resembles an irregular triangle bounded by the crests of the Carpathian Mountains in the north. The Presov region forms an ethnographic unit with the Lemko region on the adjacent northern slopes of the Carpathian crests. Scholars therefore often refer to the Presov region as the southern Lemko region. The region’s inhabitants, however, have never, with rare exceptions, designated themselves Lemkos, and their political separation from the north (which eventually fell under Polish control) has allowed them to follow a distinct historical development…

Svydnyk Ukrainian church

Svydnyk Ukrainian church

SVYDNYK MUSEUM OF UKRAINIAN CULTURE. A state-funded museum in Slovakia, specializing in the culture, history, and contemporary life of the Ukrainian population of the Presov region. The museum was formerly located in Medzilaborce (1956-7), Presov (1957-60, as part of the Presov Regional Museum), and Krasny Brod (1960-4); in 1964 it was moved into its own building in Svydnyk. A library (24,500 vols in 1981) and manuscript, tape, photo, film, and phonorecord archives are located at the museum. The Dezyderii Myly Art Gallery was established there in 1983, and an outdoor museum of folk architecture on the grounds of the Svydnyk open-air theater was created as part of the museum in the early 1980s. One-room museums in the villages of Certizne and Habura and the small Oleksander Dukhnovych Museum in the village of Topol’ia were branches of the museum. The museum has published exhibition catalogs and 11 large volumes (1965-7, 1969-72, 1976-7, 1979-80, 1982-3) of its serial Naukovyi zbirnyk, containing valuable studies on the Presov region by I. Chabyniak, M. Rusynko, Stepan Hostyniak, Mykola Mushynka, V. Lakata, M. Shmaida, M. Sopolyha, I. Chyzhmar, and other Ukrainian scholars in the former Czechoslovakia. To date 25 volumes (in 28 books) of Naukovyi zbirnyk have been published. An anniversary guide to the museum was published in 1981. The museum’s directors have been O. Hrytsak, Chabyniak, M. Rusynko, and M. Sopoliga…

Ukrainian Cultural Festival in Slovakia (folk dance)

Ukrainian Cultural Festival in Slovakia (folk dance)

UKRAINIAN CULTURAL FESTIVAL IN SLOVAKIA. An annual three-day Ukrainian folk-art festival organized in late June in Slovakia. Known as the Festival of Song and Dance until 1977, it was held in 1955 in Medzilaborce and has been held since then in Svydnyk. The festival is usually attended by 20,000 to 40,000 people, who watch 40 to 60 independent folklore ensembles (1,500-2,500 performances). Besides the local Ukrainian ensembles and folklore groups an ensemble from each of the other nationalities in the former Czechoslovakia (Czech, Slovak, Hungarian, and Polish) and groups from neighboring countries (Poland, Hungary, and Ukraine) have participated in the festival. The Duklia Ukrainian Folk Ensemble from Presov appears every year, and the Transcarpathian Folk Chorus from Uzhhorod is a frequent guest. The main festival is preceded by regional song and dance festivals in 12 localities inhabited by Ukrainians in the Presov region. In recent years the festival has consisted of eight distinct programs: choral ensembles, contemporary vocal and instrumental groups, children’s collectives, folk groups, visiting ensembles, anniversary collectives, authentic folk art (in the setting of the Svydnyk Museum of Ukrainian Culture), and the final gala performances. Thematic exhibits at the Svydnyk Museum of Ukrainian Culture, talks with veterans of the struggle for national liberation, and a performance by the winner of the Dukhnovych Festival of Ukrainian Drama have been integral parts of the cultural festival…

Ukrainian Cultural Festival in Slovakia

UNION OF RUTHENIAN-UKRAINIANS IN THE SLOVAK REPUBLIC. Civic cultural and educational organization of the Ukrainian minority in Slovakia. It was originally founded in Czechoslovakia in 1951 as the Union of Ukrainian Workers. In 1954 it was renamed the Cultural Association of Ukrainian Workers (KSUT). In 1990 at the KSUT convention in Presov the organization was restructured as the Union of Ruthenian-Ukrainians of Czechoslovakia, and it assumed its current name in 1993 following the dissolution of Czechoslovakia and the establishment of an independent Slovak Republic. The association, whose head office has been in Presov, operated only in eastern Slovakia and did not serve the Ukrainians scattered throughout the Czech lands of Bohemia and Moravia. Until the Velvet Revolution of 1989, KSUT was controlled by the Communist party and was a member of the National Front. Its network included five district organizations, one city (Kosice) organization, and over 260 local branches at schools, enterprises, or villages. KSUT conducted artistic and educational activities on a mass scale and sponsored about 190 amateur cultural circles. It held public lectures, annual folk song and dance festivals in Svydnyk, choir festivals in Kamienka, and drama and recitation festivals in Medzilaborce. The Union of Ruthenian-Ukrainians publishes the newspaper Nove zhyttia, the literary journal Duklia, the illustrated journal for children Veselka, and Naukovi zapysky. The majority of SRUSR membership belong to city and village branches in the Presov region…

SLOVAK-UKRAINIAN RELATIONS IN THE PRESOV REGION. For centuries Slovaks and Ukrainians south of the Carpathian Mountains shared the same political, social, and cultural fate within the Kingdom of Hungary. In an attempt to improve their status, Slovaks and Ukrainians of the Presov region worked together closely during each group’s 19th-century national revival. However, relations between the two national groups have not been completely harmonious in the 20th century. Throughout the interwar period Ukrainians living in the Presov region remained under a Slovak administration. All efforts to unite the Presov region with Subcarpathian Ruthenia within the federal Czechoslovakia were blocked by the Slovak autonomist government; then, under the Slovak state during the Second World War, Ukrainians experienced various degrees of discrimination. Since the establishment of communist rule in Czechoslovakia in 1948, Slovak-Ukrainian relations in the Presov region have varied. On the one hand, the Communist authorities provided educational and cultural facilities for Ukrainians and other national minorities. On the other hand, antagonism between Ukrainians and Slovaks has been evident within the Greek Catholic church (forcibly liquidated in 1950, restored in 1968). Traditionally headed by bishops of Ukrainian ethnic background, from 1969 the church was headed by a Slovak administrator who allowed services in the vast majority of churches to switch from Church Slavonic to Slovak as the liturgical language. The efforts to Slovakize the Greek Catholic church and to claim that all ‘Rusnaks’ living in Slovakia are by ethnicity Slovak are strongly supported by Slovak Catholic circles in the West, particularly Canada…


The preparation, editing, and display of the IEU entries about the historical region of Volhynia in northwestern Ukraine were made possible by the financial support of the PETER SALYGA ENDOWMENT FUND at the CANADIAN INSTITUTE OF UKRAINIAN STUDIES (Edmonton, AB, Canada).


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