Bosnians relive past war trauma as Russia invades Ukraine | Russia-Ukraine war


When Serb forces bombed my dwelling in Sarajevo, I used to be hiding in a neighbour’s home simply throughout the road. It was July 19, 1995, and I used to be 4 years outdated and placing on my purple socks – the socks my father had exchanged a packet of cigarettes for, the one socks I had throughout that final yr of the struggle.

My mom had promised to take me to play within the entrance yard of our neighbour’s home – a small patch of grass, concrete and freedom in a metropolis that was below fixed Serb shelling.

However first, my mom returned to our household dwelling to take a fast bathe. That was when the air raid siren that had turn into such a characteristic of our each day lives sounded.

Then got here the blast.

The subsequent jiffy felt like an eternity. My uncle tried to cease me from operating in direction of the home. I screamed and screamed for my mom, till she ultimately emerged from the smoke.

As a substitute of taking part in that day, we cleaned the rubble from our dwelling and I collected my doll’s physique elements, fastidiously placing her again collectively once more.

When Russia attacked Ukraine on February 24, I stored refreshing my Twitter feed and studying the information, attempting to grasp what was going down on the bottom. On the night time of February 27, when the primary footage emerged of a residential constructing in Kyiv being hit by a missile, I couldn’t sleep. The reminiscences of my circle of relatives dwelling being hit all these years earlier than flooded again to me.

“When a baby goes by means of a struggle trauma, they expertise issues in a unique method [than the adults],” explains Selma Bacevac, a psychotherapist specializing in the Balkans who relies in Florida in the USA.

“The kid doesn’t have the capability to grasp that someplace on the market, there may be security. [The] baby doesn’t bear in mind the time when issues had been peaceable, nor does [the child] perceive the idea of time and the way it works.”

Now, as Europe braces for the likelihood that the struggle in Ukraine may spill over into different nations, this concern feels significantly actual for those who have had earlier wars with Russia or had been at one time invaded by the Soviet Union.

“This collective trauma that Europe or every other society carries, makes individuals really feel like they’re on this collectively, however it additionally makes them really feel extra fearful of latest assaults,” says Bacevac.

Smoke billows from a burning building in Sarajevo in 1992
In a photograph from April 22, 1992, smoke billows from a constructing in downtown Sarajevo after a Serbian mortar assault through the struggle in Bosnia and Herzegovina [File: AP Photo/Tanjug/H Delich]

Bosnia and Herzegovina, which marked 30 years of independence from the previous Yugoslavia on March 1, feels significantly susceptible to the potential of a brand new struggle. Bosnia’s independence, shadowed by the brutal four-year struggle that claimed greater than 100,000 civilian lives, and gave beginning to Republika Srpska, is as soon as once more hanging by a thread as Republika Srpska’s Serb chief, Milorad Dodik, has threatened to secede from the nation.

“I barely slept through the night time that led to [Russia’s] invasion of Ukraine,” says Faruk Sehic, a 52-year-old poet and Bosnian struggle veteran.

“I stayed awake till 2am, worrying and anticipating the worst. I knew that the struggle would erupt [in Ukraine], and I didn’t need that to occur.”

Like me, Sehic had been following the newest Russia-Ukraine updates within the information and thru social media. For Sehic, lots of the occasions surrounding the struggle in Ukraine had been far too comparable to people who had performed out within the days resulting in Bosnia’s 1992-1995 struggle: the open threats, the refugees fleeing, the heavy shelling.

Sehic’s good friend and fellow poet from Ukraine, Andriy Lyubka, discovered himself within the midst of this newest struggle. On the second day of Russia’s invasion, he despatched Sehic a textual content message: “They’re bombing Kyiv.”

The message left Sehic in a state of deep misery.

“I advised him it’s crucial that you simply write the whole lot down,” Sehic remembers.

In the course of the struggle in Bosnia, Sehic needed to flee his hometown of Bosanska Krupa, which was managed by Serb forces. He lived in a number of Bosnian cities through the struggle, together with besieged Sarajevo. The struggle helped him to grasp the significance of writing down the historical past of a rustic that would disappear earlier than his eyes. That’s the reason he has suggested Lyubka to write down – in order that he can use these notes in his future work.

Drawing of soldiers walking past a building
The liberation of Bosanska Krupa, in September 1995; a drawing based mostly on an precise photograph [Drawing courtesy of Lejla Zjakic]

Information of the assaults on Kyiv deliver a specific trauma for individuals like Sehic, who nonetheless bear in mind dwelling below what was later described because the longest siege within the historical past of contemporary warfare. Throughout this time, Sarajevo additionally skilled fixed sniper assaults from occupying Serb forces, killing near 11,000 individuals, together with 1,600 kids.

“These of us [in Europe] who’ve skilled struggle trauma, are watching these [events] on TV from a unique standpoint,” says Bacevac.

“I’ve acquired numerous messages from individuals within the Balkans saying, ‘this seems like me, this seems like my aunt, my father’. [People] are being retriggered, retraumatised.”

Bacevac says this will manifest in some ways, together with as panic assaults, survivor’s guilt, flashbacks, an incapability to sleep, emotional outbursts, nightmares and a sense of worthlessness or helplessness. Some individuals might discover themselves shopping for meals to retailer and making different preparations for worst-case eventualities.

For Amina Agovic, a 41-year-old authorized professional, this fear is doubled.

Agovic escaped the struggle in Bosnia as a 10-year-old, along with her mom and youthful sister. She spent most of her early childhood dwelling in exile in Australia, however in the present day lives in Finland along with her husband and their 4 kids. Though Finland has a 1,340km-long border with Russia and was invaded by the Soviet Union through the temporary 1939-1940 Winter Conflict, the nation’s President Sauli Niinistö has sought to guarantee residents that the struggle in Ukraine is not going to spill over into their nation.

However Agovic and her household had been hoping to completely relocate to Bosnia this yr. Now, she is not certain that it will likely be protected to take action.

She says that, regardless of Finland’s historical past with Russia, she feels it’s safer to stay the place she is.

Refugees on a plane fleeing fighting in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1992
In a photograph from Might, 1, 1992, refugees settle in aboard a Yugoslav air pressure airplane in Sarajevo previous to their departure to Belgrade, after fleeing the preventing in Bosnia-Herzegovina [File: AP Photo]

In latest months, Dodik, who’s an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has been extra vocal about wanting Republika Srpska to turn into an impartial state, probably becoming a member of Serbia. For Bosniaks, who had been ethnically cleansed from these areas, this secession is unacceptable.

However these threats by nationalist Serbs have been supported by Russia, and Russian government-backed foundations have been accused of selling genocide denial over the Srebrenica bloodbath, during which greater than 8,000 Bosniak males and boys had been killed by Bosnian Serb forces in July 1995.

In March 2021, the Russian Embassy in Bosnia and Herzegovina warned Bosnia that if it joined NATO – one thing it additionally staunchly opposes for Ukraine – “our nation should react to this hostile act”.

A day after Russia’s assaults on Ukraine, Germany’s Die Welt newspaper revealed an article suggesting that former Yugoslavia nations, Bosnia specifically, are subsequent on Russia’s agenda. It’s but unclear whether or not this may imply a direct invasion.

“I’ll simply monitor the state of affairs and see how issues evolve,” Agovic says.

However with Russia additionally threatening Finland and Sweden with “severe military-political penalties” ought to they resolve to affix NATO, different European nations, together with Poland, have began to broaden their militaries.

For survivors of previous wars in Europe, these developments are troubling.

“[My mother] insists on us having passports prepared, and she or he plans for a risk of a struggle, although she lives with me in Florida,” says Bacevac. “Individuals who have survived struggle as adults have the necessity to really feel bodily protected, to really feel ready in case of the worst.”

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