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A Village Torn Between Two Worlds

A Village Torn Between Two Worlds
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Slemence, a small Transcarpathian village on the border between Slovakia and Ukraine, has been divided for almost 70 years. In 1945, it was split between then-Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union. Despite all the political and territorial changes seen in Europe since then, the villagers still can’t travel freely from the Ukrainian side – Maly Selmenci – to see their relatives on the Slovak side, called Velke Slemence. The 850-strong population is made up almost entirely of ethnic Hungarians – fewer than 600 in Velke Slemence and the rest in Maly Selmenci. While some elderly villagers can “boast” of having been citizens of two empires (Austria-Hungary and the U.S.S.R.), one kingdom (the Kingdom of Hungary), one federation (Czechoslovakia), and two countries (Slovakia and Ukraine), most of them have never left the village. Traveling between the two halves of the village became possible after the opening of a pedestrian and cyclist border crossing on the divided main street in 2005. But with Slovakia’s accession into the EU’s Schengen free-travel zone two years later, the inhabitants of the Ukrainian side once again need a visa to see their relatives at the other end of the street. (Produced by Nadiya Petervari of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service)