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Excerpts from

History of the Ulič Valley

Vasil Fedič, 2002

Webmaster's Note: This is a revision of the original work of Vasil Fedic, first published in 1996.  You may notice that much of the socialistic rhetoric has been tempered and that a sincere attempt to promote the village and the surrounding region has been made.  An excerpt from the publication is shown below.  Additional writings include vignettes of nine villages in the Ulic region.  These descriptions are contained in individual pages devoted to each village - Prislop, Topola, Kolbasov, Nová Sedlica, Runina, Rusky Potok, Ulič, Uličske Krive and Zboj.  Reproduced with permission of the author.  BT

Welcome to the Easternmost Valley of the Slovak Republic

The Ulič(ska) Valley, the easternmost corner of Slovakia is full of traditions, culture and unspoiled countryside, would like to invite you to its land.

 Nine picturesque villages with their generous inhabitants in the lap of the Bukov(ske) Mountains with widespread pastures, a charming world of blooming valleys, steep hillsides and dense forests, a world of mountain springs and a real oasis of healing calm await you.

 The unspoiled natural environment offers one of the most interestng and most attractive tourist areas in Eastern Slovakia – The Polininy National Park which convers 29,805 hectares.  Here, at a height of 1,221 metres above sea level, the borders of three countries, Slovakia, Poland and Ukraine meet.  Apart from a number of unique natural formations and exploration sites, you can watch a real rarity – the naturally dying forest of The Stužica virgin forest.

 The valley offers visitors various tourist activites throughout the year.  You can take individual family holidays, hiking trips along the mountain ridges, skiing or cycling holidays, etc.  During the winter, ski lifts in the village of Ulič are at visitors disposal and the very good terrain is an ideal place for cross-country skiing.  In summer, the entire Ulič(ska) Valley turns into an attractive area for families to take relaxation and regeneration trips.  The region offers the opportunity to spend a number of days exploring the area and its attractions with the possibility of accomodation in the hostel in the village Ulič or the penzion Kremenec in the village of Nová Sedlica. 

 The ecologically clean environment enables visitors to go fruit picking, especially mushrooms, and provides the possibility of swimming in the clear waters of Zboj(sky) Potok (creek) or Uličky.  Also at visitors disposal are the gyms and sports grounds of the local primary schools and sports clubs in Ulič and Zboj.  The Ulič Valley also boats interesting cultural and historic monuments.  The most famous are the national cultural religious buildings of folk architecture dating back to the 18th century – baroque wooden churches with unique icons.  You can see them in the villages of Topoľa, Ruský Potok and Uličské Krivé.  Authentic folklore is still retained in this area.  It has survived due to folk festivals, which are traditionally held here in the summer.  One of them is the fok cultural-sports festival in Ulič, which has been held 31 times. 

 Welcome to the Ulič Valley.

Regional History

The written history of Ulič Valley begins in the year 1451, when it is noted that the owners of Castles (Hrad) BREKOV and JASENOV issued a government decree establishing ULIČ.

In following years, in various documents, different connection begin to reference and describe the other villages in the Ulič valley.  In spite of this small geographic territory, the citizens of this valley were destined throughout the centuries to be associated with many important historical activities in region, continent and even around the world. 

Sadly, in this "small history" we know much less, than we do about the "large history".  The region never had a historian to chronicle life here, most of our history went up went up in smoke over the course of centuries.  Existing information is very limited, not very accessible and laborious to obtain.

The organization of this publication will provide facts about the historical development of each community in the Ulič valley in the form of a brief historical cross-section and description of each community.

A Small History

An accidental archeological discovery from millennia, revealed a gold rod from the Bronze Age in the village of Ulic, demonstrates that that in spite of the rugged terrain and geographic isolation of the Ulicskej valley, human activities had already started during the Neolithic Age / 4000 - 2000 BCThe settlement rate indeed was varied throughout several periods

First Settlement Established

14-15th Century

Basic changes occurred in association with crown timber decree by Karola Róberta, who in the year 1317 gave to the Drugeth family this uninhabited territory and gradually the Walachian gazdov - kenezov / soltysov settled it.  Following the settlement, the soltysi developed on these lands a mill, fuller saw-mill, tavern, maintenance zeliarov , dedicne richtarstvo and for a limited time they were exempt from feudal rent.

In the settlements of the Ulicskej valley a critical colony was formed: utilizing the Walachian settlement framework, from the end of the 14th to the 15th century the population was filled with Ruthenian tenants from Haliča (Galicia), Vladimírsko-volznska, with a few from Poland and who were early Walachia tenants. These migrants first felled local timber and developed the agricultural land, afterwards devoting their time to farming and Walachian cattle herding.

The poor economic and social conditions of life in mountainous areas of north-east Slovakia, excessive childbirth, responsibilities of liege (subjects of the lord), the impossibility of emigrating, were the principal problems of the original forest region around Zboj.  A comparatively large group of people worked in Zboj under the direction of Fedora Hlavateho, a native from Rusyn stock, who also worked in the Ulicskej valley.  Archives from 1492 show the conviction of 40 Ulicanov (citizens of Ulic Valley) and another Kolbasovcana (citizen from Kolbasov) from active who participated in a bandit raid of lands, clergy and a rich patrician on the Slovak - Poland border.

17th Century

On the struggling farmland, the Drughet family divided the property up into separate properties to create a few individual estate-dominions.  He created the Sninske dominion, to which villages of the Ulicskej valley belonged.  Records from 1612 and 1630 mention this dominion which was written as "krajnu".  For the entire Snina "krajne" there was one administrator, Benedict Banko.  He directed the Soltys from each community.  Included with required payments from the soltysi there was also a regular land tax and a levy.  Collectors included Juraj and Michael.  E.g . in village of Kolbasov they had to work in 1652 to pay to Juraj five denarov and Michael to pay some floren (gold coin).  As well, they took away each period / 25 liter of oats, a sheep, some volume hemp, two geese, twelve hen, twelve egg, a pint /cca 1.7 - 2.1 liter of butter and a pot honey.  According to what the Lord requires, they must also labor on the farm each day.

The religion of the subjects was determined by the lord, and as such, John, son of Juraj Drugeth imposed the Catholic faith.  In 1646 a proclimation was made establishing an ecclesiastic union at Uzhorod.  The unification process Greek Catholic with Rome occurred at that time.

At the turn of the 17th century, as a result of difficult living conditions, several dozen tenants fled their homes in the Ulic valley. People migrated especially to the southern regions of Zemplin county as well as to the Uzhorod dominion, Poland and other counties.

18th Century

In 1736 military sentries were posted in Rusky Potok, Topola, Runina and Zboj in order to prevent the smuggling of the cheap Polish salt.

In the second half of the 18th century more difficulties beset the region: famine and especially plague, which came from Poland, decimated the residents in the valley.

During this time Jewish settlement probably began. They gradually obtained a dominant place in regional trading, crafts and tavern and as shopkeepers.

The revolutionary events of 1848 did nothing to improve the living conditions of the Ulic valley residents. The downfall of feudalism did not mean immediate nor complete end to the obligations of the subjects. Another negative aspect of the period was the effort to totally „Magyarize the Ruthene population.

Nevertheless, throughout the 19th century the population of each village steadily increased. Their main support was always the earth. The initial focus of farms was raising livestock and hay production. However, in order to survive people also grew crops, mainly oats, barley, rye, as well as smaller amounts of wheat. In the fields they cultivated buckwheat (tatarka) and a variety called pearl millet. Potatoes have been known in the region since the early 19th century. Also grown were legumes, cabbage, cattle turnips, carrots, onions and garlic.

The only supplemental employment was work in the surrounding forest. As early as 1901 a narrow-gauge railroad was instrumental in harvesting timber. During the occupation of the Horthy Hungary (editor's note: Horthy was a Hungarian admiral and regent), the forestry business was run by the company 'Erudobirtakosk' Inc. from Budapest, the local forest suffered severe deforestation.

Most everyday items, commodities and farm tools were made by people themselves. More skillful farmers provided woodworking, wheelwright, carpentry and cooperage works. Highly regarded craftsmen were blacksmiths who manufactured important iron products needed in homes. Among those were Spielmann, a Jew from Ulic, P. Danko from Kolbasov, P. Stavrovsky from Prislop, Schomberger, a Jew from Ulicske Krive and Sjansky from Nova Sedlica. Other necessary items were bought at the market in Velke Berezne.

Backwards farming methods and intermittent forestry work could not offer sufficient subsistence for everyone. As a result, many people left for seasonal jobs in southern regions of Zemplin county. They dug potatoes, turnips or gathered corn (lamali tengericu). Nevertheless, the most important job held was harvesting crops (na vuzen). They worked in pairs - a mower (man) and harvester (woman).  After three weeks of toil, where every day they worked from 3:00 AM until 10:00 PM, they brought home about three meters of wheat. Still that was insufficient. Residents were in debt and the only way to obtain cash to pay these debts was to work abroad.

Central county and local authorities were callous and indifferent to the agricultural workers. They were situated in the town of Nove Mesto pod Siatrom, located in southern part of the Zemplin county where the conditions were diametrically opposite from those in the Ulic valley. Here there was only small, poor field crops in miserable soil, which farmer labored on with his superhuman toil to just double sow oats or barley. According to present-day expert estimates, only one twenty fifth (that is out of 100 only four) of the farmers were able to survive in such conditions, which is another indicator of the extremely difficult economic circumstances in northern Zemplin county. An economic depression in the entire monarchy which began after the failure of the Viennese stock exchange in 1873 made the situation even worse.

20th Century

At the end of the 19th and early in the 20th century emigration overseas became the ultimate salvation in the face of hardship and hunger. The fare charged was 80 to 100 crowns. Most people frequently borrowed from the parish priests.  Few at that time worried about traveling with a passport. On the nearby border with Poland (at that time belonging to Austria), as well as Germany, (passport) documents had been written in Magyar (Hungarian) which no one (in these nations) understood.  Most were verified after seeing a marking and a stamp.  People were trafficked by so-called 'provadimeri' who knew the terrain well. For a successful operation they received 10 crowns from each farmer.  Janci Ruzanic and Vasil Labanc from Ulic, Polish Andrej from Runina were among the traffickers which were also found in other villages.

After a difficult, long and tiresome journey our people living in the Americas frequently worked in the mines and metalworks. Work was primarily unskilled and physically heavy labor. In the first years of the 20th century almost every valley family had someone in America.

Even in the early 20th century the quality of life in Ulic valley did not significantly improve. The overall situation in the valley was worsened by the outbreak of the First World War.  Men of productive age had to abandon their modest farms and enter the forces of the Austro-Hungarian army.

World War I

As part of the overall battle for the strategic Carpathian passes, a surprise attack by the 48th division under General L. G. Kornilov in Humenne put the Ulic valley territory at close quarters to the front. As a result of a downfall of the Przemysl defenses in Galicia and following occupation of the Carpathian ridge by the Russians in spring of 1915, directly in the valley a difficult battles were fought. The established front line: Kucalata above Topola - Ridge of Maly Bukovec - Saddle of Prislopec - Summit of Velky Bukovec - Village of Zboj - Bystriansky stream - Summit of Stinska. The sector from Kucalata to Zboj was defended by the XVIII. Corps commanded by General Ziegler and east of Zboj by the V. Corps under General Puhall.

In their attempt to leave nothing for the enemy, the Austro-Hungary military practiced 'scorched earth' tactics.  In Nova Sedlica only the wooden church and wooden cottage of Juraj Batromij remained standing. The villages of Zboj, Runina and Topola were also burned down. Russian soldier prisoners of war were concentrated in two camps, at Oblazy near Zboj and in Topola at the county farm.

In each village there is a military cemetery, where collectively 751 soldiers from both armies are buried.  Among the graves is Russian General Mikolaj Mikolajevic Murbuch's grave found in the Ulic cemetery. Most of these sites are fading slowly to oblivion.

Inter-war Period

After the end of the war and the break-up of Austria-Hungary to create new successor nations, among which also Czechoslovakia, were created. The villages of the Ulic valley became its components. From 1921 they have been under the Snina district. Seeking improvement of economic and social life attracted more workers abroad, peaking in the years 1926-1933. Most were destined to France, Belgium, Argentina and Canada.

1939, World War II

When Czechoslovakia was split up and the Slovak Republic was created, areas in eastern Slovakia and the remaining part of Zakarpatian Ukraine (the area behind Carpathian mountains) were annexed to the Horthy Hungary. The Hungarian army immediately invaded the Ulic valley on 15 March 1939. It is in Ulic where one of the episodes of the so-called 'Little war' occured. On 23 March 1939 three B 534 aircraft from the Slovak air force attacked a row of light-weight Hungarian tanks despite resistance from surface fire. The aircraft took off from the airport in Spisska Nova Ves under the command of Lieutenant Mergot. In the air, one of the planes caught fire. On an emergency landing, the plane of the Second Lieutenant Svetlik crashed in region called 'Podkrusina'. The pilot was buried in a local graveyard. Afterwards his remains were taken away by his family.

Hungarian police metted out harsh treatment, paper regulations and punishment. Also legend was the cruelty of the Hungarian police who had only one punishment - brutal thrashing. For the valley residents this was an extremely difficult period.

A food card system was established and for several days each year people had to work on county property without pay. Many of them went to work constructing the so-called 'Arpad's line' fortification and others toiled in the local forests which was literally plundered for army needs. From 1941 to 1944 civilians built two military routes from the Ulic valley to Poland. One led from Nova Sedlica and the other from Runina.

When Hungary declared war on the Soviet Union in 1941, hundreds of young men were required to enter the Hungarian army. Dozens of recruits who went to the front never returned. All attempts at resistance were mercilessly suppressed. In 1942 Ulic communists and many other men from the village were dragged away to prison in Uzhorod where they were tortured and threatened with execution without being ever heard in court. There Jan Hlivka was martyred to death and on 20 June 1942, after a barbaric torture, Rudolf Winer was put to death too.

In the autumn of 1944 the whole valley became engulfed in the war front. Extremely difficult and bloody battles were fought on the main ridge and the thoroughly fortified southern slopes of the Eastern Carpathian mountains. Not only was this almost impassable terrain but the continuing autumn downpours and dense fog complicated the progress of the army units. Despite of the defiant resistance of German armies, units of First Guard's Army, the 18th Army and the 8th Airborne Division of the IV Ukrainian Front under the superior command of General J. V. Petrov managed to liberate all villages in the Ulic valley at the end of October 1944.

Post-War Conditions

The situation of the valley after the front passed was dire. The difficult battles caused imense material destruction. Zboj, Topola and Nova Sedlica had 90 percent of the homes destroyed. Farm livestock, forage and foodstuffs were taken by the retreating German army. Tens of civilians perished during combats, many others died in the minefields.

Very poor economic, social and health conditions returned, sending forth citizens of Ulic valley to seek employment outside their birthplace. They went primarily to the Czech lands. At least two and often more young people from each household went away. Some families departed for lands far beyond to environs of Kralovsky Chlmec (particularly those from Nova Sedlica and Ulic) and in 1947 some emigrated to Ukraine. 

Life slowly began to stabilize in the Ulic Valley, but was disturbed by activities of the 'Banderovci' (group of bandits in the area) who in the first post-war year moved throughout the valley almost without constraint. Their destruction was focused mainly against active communists and Jews.

The terrible impact of the events in the valley which occurred in 1940s are demonstrated by the statistical population data. In 1940 there had been 6,398 citizens, in 1948 there were only 5,028. After only those eight years the valley 'lost' 1,370 people.

Recovery

The establishment of the Forestry Enterprise in Ulic in 1947 began to form the foundation of large work opportunities directly in the valley. Sixteen years later, the company employed nine permanent and two hundred and sixty seasonal workers. On 1 January 1973 it noted substantial financial changes. A part of the Forestry Enterprise in Snina as well as state-owned land of all the Ulic valley villages, of Ostruznica and Zvala were incorporated into the Forestry Enterprise in Ulic. During that time the Forestry Enterprise in Ulic had 1,028 employees. In 1986 it was separated from the Eastern Slovakia National Forests of Kosice and Ulic established an independent Forestry and Agricultural Enterprise.

The defining moment in the entire valley's development was the decree of the Czech and Slovak Socialist Republic (CSSR) government, number 1105 adopted on 29 December 1961 which promoted and accelerated necessary economic development in the area.

Programs were established, primarily the formation of new jobs, raising standard of housing, health and social welfare, construction of industries and roadway networks.

In this context, the 1967 construction of a plant with the latest technology for production of finished formed wood products played a very important role. The factory was named TVARONA ULIC. It initially employed over three hundred people. Furniture parts, formed shafts and handles were manufactured here. Nearly 20 percent of all production was exported.

The government resolution (decree) mentioned above provided the support necessary for important improvements to ecoomic and social condition of the Ulic valley residents.

Copyright 2002, Vasic Fedič

 

REPRODUCED WITH PERMISSION OF THE AUTHOR

Translation by Bill Tarkulich
 

Last Update: 13 February 2005  

Copyright © 2003-2006, Bill Tarkulich