“These kids need help”

Father Valerian Michlik visits Ukrainian refugees at kindergarten in Slovakia


Ukrainian refugees at Kolysočka kindergarten school in Prešov, Slovakia.


By David Mayernik Jr., Editor

When Father Valerian Michlik visited Kolysočka, a kindergarten school in Prešov, Slovakia earlier this year, he witnessed 18 Ukrainian children being educated on the second floor.

All refugees of the ongoing war in Ukraine, the children showed him a map of their home country with their small hands pointing at each of their home towns.

The small school opened its doors to Slovak and Rusyn children on Sept. 1, 2021 and less than a year later almost doubled its population with Ukrainian students and their family members.

Father Valerian, pastor at St. Gregory in Upper St. Clair, Pa., told his parishioners about his encounter following the Oct. 9 Divine Liturgy.

He traveled around Europe in July with his daughter, Anja, who was studying in Madrid, Spain, and attended his father’s 80th birthday party in Slovakia.

He met up with his daughter in Split, Croatia, which is located near the coast on the Adriatic Sea.

During his visit, he met Ukrainian refugees in Croatia, the majority being children and their mothers, as men are in Ukraine fighting in the war.

From there, Father Valerian traveled north to Slovakia for his father’s birthday celebration.

Before leaving from Pittsburgh, he learned of the Prešov kindergarten, the first Ruthenian school of its kind in the area.

The building was renovated and donated by the Slovakian government and is about 45 minutes away from the border with Ukraine.

“You can imagine a good number of Ukrainian refugees go through Prešov,” said Father Valerian said.

“Prešov has always been the heart of our people in that country.”

Father Valerian said students have access to a quality pre-primary education and learn numbers, colors, words and songs.

He showed a report card which grades students in areas such as behavior, cleaning up toys, drawing, singing, and fitness and dancing.

“They also want to introduce Western languages to these children…They were showing me the philosophy of how they educate children there.”

Their daily menu includes a slice of bread with butter and honey at 10 a.m. and lunch of chicken soup and vegetables with tofu cheese, potatoes and dessert.

The school experienced much change following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.

“Then in the middle of the school year, in February, the war begins in Ukraine. Thousands of people are leaving the country…these children ended up in Prešov,” Father Valerian said.

Eighteen Ukrainian children now learn their curriculum on the second floor along with 24 Rusyn children on the first floor. This is with no increase of funds from the Slovak government, which are distributed annually during the summer.

Refugees in Prešov are living in a reconfigured prison, monasteries and student dorms.
Father Valerian praised the school’s principal, who studied in Kyiv, the capital city of Ukraine.

“When she saw the families coming through Prešov, right away, this woman, on her own, went into action. Imagine, you just started this kindergarten in 2021 and now you have a program No. 2, helping Ukrainian refugees,” he said.

“They’re trying their best in a town of 100,000 to help these Ukrainian refugees. They come from all over Ukraine and they’re in exile, refugees in Prešov.”

Parishioners at St. Gregory are also endeavoring to help the school through this year’s Advent outreach project.

Envelopes will be hung on the branches of a St. Nicholas Wishing Tree for donations to fund various needs of the school, such as reflective vests (needed for when students travel through town), art and kitchen supplies, and staff sustenance.

The vests cost 5 Euro each — or $5 each in U.S. dollars — so 31 are needed to cover each child and four teachers for a total of $175 U.S.

“I saw the program and I can see these kids need help,” Father Valerian told parishioners.

“I am asking you, from the generosity and kindness of your heart, to bring the joy of St. Nicholas to those kids in Prešov at that kindergarten.”


St. Nicholas Wishing Tree at St. Gregory in Upper St. Clair, Pa. will benefit Ukrainian refugees at Kolysočka, kindergarten school in Prešov, Slovakia.