Being in Kosice for a couple of days I thought I would take an opportunity of visiting the Slemence – Mali Slemence border crossing and (at that time) enter Ukraine officially for the first time. Unfortunately the queues for the border were huge with a 2.5 hour delay in getting across. I was simply able to observe and my first trip to Ukraine put back.
Slemence is known to border enthusiasts as the “divided village”. The majority of inhabitants are Hungarian speaking on both sides of the border. This enabled them to speak across the border with Russian border guards not understanding what was being said. Both parts of the village were originally part of Hungary and then part of Czechoslovakia. In 1946 however this became the border between the USSR and was heavily fortified, cutting off the 2 parts of the village from one another. To meet with relatives on the other side, locals had to first travel 13 km to Uzhgorod for visas to Czechoslovakia. If their visa application, which took at least two weeks, was successful, they would travel 80 km south to the nearest border crossing, then 80 km back, and return the same way. Previously 300 to 500 meters and a half day, the trip became at least 160–200 km long for one way only and took at least a month to organize. For most villagers the cost was prohibitively expensive.
Moving forward firstly to 1991 and the independence of Ukraine and then to 1993 and the velvet divorce between the Czech Republic and Slovakia the village remained divided but between 2 new countries. In 2003, a Székely gate (székelykapu) was installed on the border, one half of it being in the Slovak, while the other half being on the Ukrainian part of the border.
It was not until 2005 following pressure from the villagers and the EU (led by Hungary) that a border crossing was established, thereby ending 61 years of division.
In 2008 the Schengen agreement once more placed restrictions on the Ukrainian villagers.
The Closed Border (pre 2003)
Border Crossing (2018)
- TRANSITIONS ONLINE: The New Blue Curtain (2003) Article
- THE SLOVAK SPECTATOR: The trails of Slemence Village (2015) Blog
- Velke Slemence (MDR Zeit Reise) Article
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Date of Visit: 03/08/2008