Photo by: Korab Krasniqi
Stories of women survivors of torture during the last war in Kosovo (1/10)
Wrong Return from Switzerland
It had never occurred to Teuta that she would one day experience what she’d only witnessed on TV during the mid 1990s. With her boss’s wife, she would watch stories about the Bosnian war that was going on at the time. Teuta used to live in Switzerland then.
A few years later, her husband decided to return to Kosova to join the KLA. Teuta followed her husband’s wish.
Yet, returning as a pregnant woman turns out be the worst decision of her life. She experienced atrocities that came to be known as the two offensives of the Serbian army in the villages of Kosova.
She had to live in the open in mountains, dodge shooting, be wounded by a grenade, sexually abused and expelled from home, while being with her family and friends most of the times. Her five young children follow their mother in what could be assessed as months of facing inhuman atrocities.
Teuta was wounded on her leg and breast from two pieces of a grenade thrown on a row of civilians who were walking under a death threat: the one to stop moving would be killed.
A bit later she would see the horror by those she calls Seselj’s paramilitaries, who rob her of her possessions. Others, she calls Arkan’s paramilitaries, behead an infant to terrify the fleeing women.
“You knew whose paramilitaries they were from the name they’d shout; ‘long live Seselj’ or ‘long live Arkan.’ Arkan’s men were masked, Seselj’s had long coats,” Teuta explains. Together with 50 other women Teuta is raped a few weeks before the war ends, in a factory where she was held for several hours.
First Person Narration: I Was Wounded but They Didn’t Spare Me
I am a married mother of five. I have many brothers and sisters. I have good memories; many of them. My parents managed to school all of us girls, so we all finished school.
The best moments were those of Eid. We’d grab our music instruments, sing, go to houses and help brides dress up. Such a pleasure it was.
I got engaged and then married six months later. We had our wedding and then we had to move to Germany. So, I went there and lived with my husband. I worked together with him there.
For five years we stayed in Switzerland. I was pregnant when we returned to Kosova. I worked there looking after the five daughters of our boss, and my husband worked for him too.
We came back for holidays, I was pregnant that year. When we came back it was 1992-93, and the war was raging in Bosnia. I would watch the events from that war on TV with my boss’s wife. I would get up from my seat, I remember, as I would get goosebumps in my entire body. The boss’s wife and I would both cry while watching the events in Bosnia. I never even imagined I would experience the war in Kosova myself.
I never even thought of it. I could not watch the events on TV from crying, so with my boss’s wife we’d go out often, taking the kids for a walk as we didn’t even dare to watch the war on TV. So we decided one August and came back to Kosova, as nobody even told us what was going on there. As the time approached to leave, I noticed my husband coming back later from work in the evenings. I was pregnant and already had two children, my daughter and my son. He would be late and I would wonder what he was doing. We would have the “Rilindja” newspaper at the time, and I was quite fond of reading. When I saw “Rilindja” announcing that the war in Kosova is on the verge it was 1997. That’s when I started to fear. I would see that the men would assemble during the nights, and my husband had put on the KLA uniform.
I said to him that I would keep the children and move on, as my father-in-law had also instructed me to do so. My husband disagreed, saying we should all die for our homeland.
I gave birth. I gave birth under a candle light as there was no doctor. There were no movements allowed from the Serbian troops. That’s when a massacre was done.
That’s when the war started for me. It was the moment I gave birth and I was staying indoors for three weeks. Three weeks with the little children and the baby not knowing where my husband had gone as the army would not allow him to return home.
And then we’d move from one village to another. The nights belonged to us, the days to the Serbs. They would not dare move by night and they would assemble in their collection points. The daylight belonged to them.
It rained a lot, with hale even. We had nothing to eat. Our tractor had no more petrol; it got stuck. All our belongings were left on that tractor. We started to walk. It was only us women and children. We moved on foot, came and hid inside a stable. The military spotted us, observing our moves. They had seen that the infantry is moving downhill to enter the houses. So they waited until it was dark, they imagined that no movement would be going on during the night. We closed ourselves inside a stable and when we got out to pull out some water from a well, we heard many footsteps approaching. So we started to cry, as we knew that where they would find the weak few, they would slaughter everyone. We all started to cry and the young girls where screaming. Fortunately, it was our own army. They had come to help pull us out of there. We were helped that night, and managed to get away. We slept in another village. In the morning the soldiers brought us cooked wheat as we and the children had eaten nothing.
The children would not want to eat the cooked wheat without sweetening it up. The soldiers had cooked it as they had no flour. They said to us, “We are trying to get a tractor to load you on it and get you out of here.” We were quite a few. We fit on two tractors and set off. On our way towards the border we heard the automatic rifles shooting above our heads. A bullet hit the tractor wheel and it went flat. We knew it was the Serbs shooting. The tractors stopped and the drivers ran away. We moved our children towards the woods and our army men totally withdrew, as the Serbs were approaching with tanks.
We stayed in the woods for three days and three nights. We would have to press on our children mouths hard as we saw below us many automatic guns and gulinovs. The infantry would then move and start shooting and shooting until it would get dark, they would try to clear the grounds. The tanks started to approach and the ground was trembling from them. The infantry soldiers climbed over those tanks and headed towards the village. We saw what way their offense was advancing, so we spent that night, and the other, and the other one after that, inside those woods.
We were dragging our children and headed towards another village.
There we gave them something to eat and drink from what people who had abandoned the village had left behind. They had had some beans, and some bread loafs were still fresh, as they had run away upon hearing the automatic rifles. We had something to eat and then at 5 a.m. we moved on. They moved us on with another tractor from there. They sent us to stay with my family but there were many refugees who had sought shelter there already. They had finished their attacks on those sides and would not return this way anymore. But this was just another of their tactics, and they had burned our house destroying all of our possessions.
The fiercest attacks started after NATO had agreed to start bombing them. We were in a stable and could not even get our own children; you did not know what direction were the bullets coming from.
When they started with the attacks that day in March, they then assembled us all. They would even find us in the mountains hiding and assembled us in the village school. All of us women with our children were there for three days.
We went out to look for flour in the neighboring houses. We did manage to bake some three loafs of bread, but it was not baked properly, it was more like dough. I had to eat something in order to be able to breastfeed my baby. I had no milk in my breasts, and my baby was crying of hunger. When they came they even took away from us the bread we had managed to prepare and kicked us out of the school.
Seselj’s paramilitaries came and then Arkan’s. The first ones were Seselj’s. We knew which ones were whose as they would shout out loud “Long live Seselj.” Those that shouted “Long live Seselj” wore long coats. They were looking for golden jewelry. I had my golden jewelry with me as my husband had instructed me not to leave it home and that I should have it just in case.
Arkan’s paramilitaries were utterly crazy. They all wore masks; their heads were all skin shaved and they all wore some scarfs over their heads.
They had all the tools for massacre. They took a two-year-old boy from his mother and one of them placed his knife over his throat. “I have a soft touch, I have a soft touch, don’t you worry!” he’s shout. Children cried and screamed.
My baby was sick and I had no mil to feed her, I had nothing to eat and I knew my baby was going to die. Then they came in-between women and girls and started to kick us all. Some of them they pushed into houses, to make sure if there were any KLA fighters inside them. That’s when they separated about 20 of us, they dragged us all behind the school yard kicking us on our chests.
There they undressed us and collected our clothes so as to set them on fire.
When they sent us behind the school yard, there were young girls there, there was an elderly woman of at least 65, and even pregnant women. They undressed us all, had us lean against the wall naked facing it, and then they started to rape us. A girl was crying and screaming very loudly. My mother-in-law then spoke and asked them to release me. Some of them were a bit nicer, some were meaner. One of them asked “which one is your daughter-in-law?” My mother-in-law called me to approach her. Three women who were closer to her ran before me saying “It’s me, it’s me.” But my mother-in-law said “it’s neither of them.” “I am her daughter-in-law,” I said and then they hit those girls with the back of the riffle on their knees and they fell on the ground. I picked up the clothes of another woman and quickly wrapped them around my body so as to face my mother-in-law. Then some other women gave me some clothes, and later we all joined the raw of some women moving. And I thought that was it, and I was saved. I was saved, I thought.
The women who were left there behind the school yard were never found and to this day nobody even knows where their bodies are buried. So we joined the raw, and were made to sit down with the face against the soil. They were firing on every side. That’s where we were until late in the evening when more Serbs joined, and they started to sing. They all had long beards; they had assembled lambs, sheep, they were singing their Serbian songs and whistling. Many things they had stolen they had hanged on their tanks; the golden jewelry was hanging from their tanks. They made us keep our heads low, and they lead on their tanks while we walked behind them.
They would constantly hit us on our ribs with the back of their riffles. I was carrying my baby in my arms. One of my children was holding the hand of my sister-in-law and the other I was holding with my hand so as not to lose them in that raw of people. We started to move with my children, my mother in law and my sister in law. When we arrived at a village they separated all of the elderly men. They killed 13 old men in front of our eyes. One of them was saying “Look carefully and see which one is your father!” They would select the poor old men, make them kneel and shoot them against their head. Then they had the women who were pushing their mothers on a wheelchair, as they could not walk, move them to the nearby woods and then went to the woods and killed the old women. And then they would leave those dead women on wheelchairs inside the woods, or they’d kill them and then push the wheelchairs down the wood.
We started to move on and then a grenade fell and exploded in front of us. Many died; I saw beheaded women, women with no legs or arms. Then I noticed I had also been wounded by a part of that grenade, and saw that my daughter was also bleeding in her face. I was hit on my breast and my leg.
When I saw my girl bleeding I said to my mother-in-law, “My daughters been hit by the grenade”. They would look at the people who were wounded and could not move anymore and they put them on the side in order to then kill them. My mother-in-law said, “Walk and don’t even turn to see your daughter as they will kill you and your baby too.” How could I walk though; my leg was bleeding. I asked my mother-in-law to hold on to my baby, “I’m shaking and cannot walk any longer, you hold the girl.” Other women gave me some dippers to cover my baby and they tied up my leg so as I could move until we went to the city. On the way my mother-in-law said “You know... your baby is dead!” “What do I do now, where do I leave her?” I asked. I was wounded, and had a wounded leg. There were still some policemen and some soldiers, from the regular army, but the ones wearing masks were the ones who did the killings. I took my baby and put her down next to a mill. I never want to go to that mill again in my life. When I did, this Serbian uniformed soldier goes to me “Don’t leave it there; a dog might eat it.” He was himself yelling to me “Don’t leave it!”, barking like a dog, “Take it!” he’d say in Serbian, “Take it!” So I picked her up. When we approached the city they threw us into a valley and there they separated us and shoved us up into a factory. They had about 130 people inside that factory, and we did not dare see where they are taking the rest, as we were to stay inside that factory. My mother-in-law took off her coat and laid it down for me. She kept it at it was cold. Women came to me and catered to my wound. They found some scissors and removed the part of the flesh that was infected. Then they put some flour on it so as to stop the bleeding and then tied up the wound. It got somewhat better. As for the breast, I could not do much; I just could not stop my bleeding, as I was breast-feeding my baby and she wanted to suck on it. I started to feel feverish, my temperature raised.
Some women found me some milk and I gave it to my baby trying to wet her lips. She started to open her eyes, she had been alive. And we stayed there for three nights, while I was very sick, yet my baby started to get better. There was a doctor there to whom I am grateful for as long I shall live.
All of the Serbs were assembled in front of the factory and they had captured a lot of young men. They would jump over their bellies with both feet, beating up our youngsters. The blood was screaming downwards. If they would hit someone with the back of their riffle, the victim would give away their watches, and even the gold those the young men had. They would kick them and load them on trucks. We the women started to cry and scream. A Serbian guy approached and he beat up an old man. He also attacked and beat up a young girl, just because she had short hair. “You KLA huh?” he said to her and beat her up in front of us all. Then they yelled at us for screaming and they put us all inside again.
They put us all inside and I thought they were going to take away all the young men as they were loading them on trucks. I thought they will take them and go away. When we got inside, two of the shorter men came in and said to us “Leave your children and come out!” But we all got out with our children as we did not want to lose sight of them. I did not want to accept parting with them, so I held them tight against me and thought to myself “Let them kill me together with my children as I will never leave them.” You understand at that point that children are the core of your own soul.
We started to cry there and they said to us, “We have killed your husbands and burnt your houses. What else are you waiting for? Why are you not on your way to Albania yet?” “You killed our husbands and destroyed our homes but I will not let go of my children. Kill me with them.” He took away his gun and then I saw some children coming out on their own, of mothers who let them out on their own. He was very upset that I came out with my children, that he slapped me so hard on my ear that I had hearing problems for a long time.
They beat me up and took away my children, and the children started to come out. We were 130 people, 50 of us they separated inside that place. They took the children out. We lost our minds, cried and screamed so hard, I will never forget those sounds (sobs). And then we saw so many soldiers and masked men with guns, knives and screwdrivers. They held their tools against us and then a big guy wearing a mask came in. He had a golden tooth. He yelled at us “In less than one minute I want you undressed. Take off all the clothes! I will not wait! Start undressing immediately!”
We were about 50 women inside, out of a total of 130 people. You cannot imagine all of the screaming and crying. We did not know which one to console. We did not dare approach any of the other women. They were beating them up. They undressed us forcefully, they would cut out bras with their knives to take them off. They brought a knife against my chest (sobs). I was wounded on my leg and breast, but they did not spare me. My breast was bleeding. I lost my conscience. Later when I came to my senses I remember only that I had two of them on top of me. One was holding me and the other one was… doing his thing. All of us women lost our minds. They continued so for like two or three hours and never opened the doors. And outside there were our children and older men and women. They would hear our screams. The women there were all in one way or another known to one another. I had lost my conscience and remember almost nothing, I just recall that when those from outside came in, my mother-in-law threw a blanket at me. They took some of the women with them, 30 remained inside and another 20 were taken away. When those from outside came in, my mother-in-law came to cover me. My daughter was five at the time and she recalls “Mum, you were all screaming and crying inside.”
Then women started to wash up with some warm water. It was difficult to find water at that time. We stayed there for another week and they were always nearby somewhere. We were constantly under their surveillance.
They returned the next day. The next round started the next day. I climbed the attic with another young girl, and we were saved in the attic. We did not go down until it was all finished and they were gone.
Then old women came in holding what they could find from the houses, and covered us. They were trying to make us some food, so as to feed us, but it was difficult to help the women. Then they brought in some doctors to try and help with our wounds.
We remained in that factory for another week as we had nowhere to go; we did not know if our sons were alive, and if anyone had died! We went out on the valley; we sat down and cried as we were so scared about our fate. During that week we buried a total of six children as they all died out of starvation. We would dig a grave deep enough as to fit the small bodies. Then we would go out and cry over those graves.
After one week I saw my brother and my husband coming down from the mountain towards us. I was so embarrassed to come in front on them. They had heard what had happened to us but they said not a single word about it. My brother came first, then some of my cousins who were now wearing a uniform, and then my husband. Then my mother-in-law said to me, “Say nothing, let them see with their eyes that you have been beaten up, as other women will also say they were beaten up”. And that’s what we decided to say to them, that we were just severely beaten up. But I thought to myself, he may learn it today or he may learn it later. Let him know here and now and let him decide while I am still here. Though we were both there, I had difficulties recognizing him, knowing if he was indeed my husband or not. When he approached he looked at me and the others afterwards. I wasn’t the only one in that state, all of us were. Each one of us looked sick and exhausted. I approached and hugged my husband, my brother, all of my cousins who had managed to get alive from the war. My husband asked, “Are you safe?” “We’re safe”, I said. He embraced me again and asked “Where are the children?” We were all gathered there, but I pulled my husband to the side and told him exactly what had happened to us “So take me or leave me” I said to him, “this is what they did not just to me, but all of us.” He said he knew it, and added “You will be my wife the way you have always been.” He was very supportive.
KFOR forces then entered, but I did not see them as I had lost my conscience. I thought to myself “Here it goes again.” My husband and mother-in-law suffered from my attitude later. I just could not love anyone anymore. I just could not adapt to life anymore; my life had been destroyed, it was not as it had been before the war. For a long time I even had problems sleeping. I would go to sleep, and then in the middle of the night I would wake up, get up, thinking I have to hide, they are coming, they are coming in, I would scream in my sleep and wake up crying.
Everyone saw I was going through hell. My father-in-law was also aware of it. We were trying to rebuild our lives, but I simply had no will, in spite of having my children. I went to the garage to hang myself; my father-in-law found me. He removed the rope from my neck, “What are you doing my daughter? What is it?” I was emotionally very disturbed.
I did suffer a lot after the war. I was psychologically imbalanced for at least three years. I was taking antidepressant pills.
And then from 2008 on I am very thankful to this NGO in which we are discussing. I must have been so closed down inside myself, but now I feel much better. That year was my first time narrating about my experience of the war. And there weren’t just two or three other women there… there were many who told others about our experience of the war, as there was nobody to stop us talking about it. When I first spoke about those things I did not know I would be talking about it again. When I came to the association for the first time. My husband encouraged me, “Other women are going, why don’t you go too?” he said. There were many of us, about two dozen women coming up together and speaking about the experiences of the war.
I started to notice the change after I spoke. I started to find people more accepting towards me. At times it seemed that I no longer felt anything about what had happened to me. And for the last two years now I am getting on much better with my husband. We are getting along fine. I sense that I feel closer to my husband because I never wanted to be intimate with him... and he was very understanding. He is a very reasonable person, a very quiet one. I am very upset myself, and whenever I get upset, he calms me down, he speaks softly to me “Let us go out for some fresh air, for a walk. Come! Why worry? There is nothing to get upset about, my love. Why worry? The war’s over, finished, it is to be forgotten. We need to look towards the future, the children, the family.” He is such a quiet type, and I am thankful to the Lord from the bottom of my heart for having such a husband.
Today, the best thing I expect to happen to me is to see that my children get schooled. I just want them to finish the school, find employment and pray that this thing does not repeat. God willing it never happens again. Oh dear God I beg of you!
And what I have hoped for I see is gradually coming to life. Surviving all of that suffering was worth it, I see now it was worth struggling and surviving so as to see my children grow up.
I am thankful you presented us with this opportunity to talk, I am really looking forward to see the book and read it. I really want to have the book in my hands. I want other mothers in Kosova to also be able to read it so that mothers can read about what other mothers have experienced.
This story is part of "I want to be heard: Memory book with stories of women survivors of torture during the last war in Kosovo", powered by forumZFD and Integra in collaboration with KRCT - The Kosova Rehabilitation Centre for Torture Victims, and supported by German Federal Ministry for Cooperation and Economic Development, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and UN Women.