EDITORS’ NOTE: Refugees from the war in Kosovo have gone home. To pick up their shattered lives. To rebuild amidst the ashes of their homes and communities. The first Baptist workers are there. Sharing food. Winterizing damaged homes. Offering warm blankets for the harsh winter ahead. Telling about another One who had no place to lay His head. This a report on the conditions they face.
PRISTINA, Kosovo (BP)–The hillside is a clutter of homes and patchwork yards. Below, the city Pristina simmers in summer heat. The yearling bull stands in one small yard. It is a healthy animal. Skin taut, stretched smooth across a muscled frame. The carcasses of cattle — killed and left in the fields to rot by passing Serbian troops — add to the mystery of how this one survived.
This one will feed a family.
The end comes with a deft stroke. Delivered fast. Deep. Rendered with a sharpened scythe, one end wrapped in a rag to protect hands bent on leverage.
From a street below, a rifle shot sends the “sora,” the ubiquitous blackbirds of Kosovo, swirling into the air. The bull’s eyes cloud as it sinks to its knees and topples on its side.
It is not an easy death. The lungs heave, gasping for air, and the limbs flail long after the head is separated from the body. Blood soaks the soil.
Anvar’s words come in a whisper chill on a sweat-soaked day: “I have seen men slaughtered this way.”
Kosovo — or Kosova, as its ethnic Albanian population intones it — is soaked in blood. Death notices are posted daily along the streets — on walls, on telephone poles — sometimes singly, sometimes ganged together on one sheet.
In the village of Leybeniq, outside Pec, 66 people were massacred. They were told to gather their things, that they had three minutes to leave, to begin the passage over the mountains into exile. Instead, they were herded into a courtyard and executed, their bodies piled up and burned.
Among them was a young woman eight months pregnant.
These may not be all the victims here. Not all the homes and communities in the surrounding woods and nearby mountains have been checked. Not all the refugees have returned. Three hundred fifty are known still to be missing. Hope for them diminishes with each passing day.
In Pec, while Fitore Gjuka and her children fled into the mountains, her husband slipped back into their house for a few things and saw two elderly neighbors set on fire and burned to death.
Assad Goga and his family also fled that night. As he talks, his teenage daughter, Pilar, translates. When he tells of his wife’s death, Pilar’s mouth sets. She draws in. Her eyes take on a faraway cast. He waits for her to go on, but she can’t. Assad turns, holds his fists before him and makes the sound of a machine gun.
Vjollca Demalijay escaped into Montenegro after hiding for days in a Gypsy community. Her husband survived by scaling the wall behind their home while 13 other men, neighbors in the immediate community, died out front.
“He just turned the right way,” she says with a sense of guilt. Her life seems too easy, so lucky, she says, when compared with that of her friend Sherine Hoxha. Her husband was one of the 13. He died while her mother-in-law watched.
“With his death, they took everything from me,” she says.
The pain is deep. The losses are great. Everyone has a story. Of children and old folks lost on the long trek over the mountains through the oceans of thigh-deep snow. Of neighbors lost in the streets. Of some who have simply disappeared. Of sons. Or daughters. Of mothers. Of fathers. Of lifelong friends. It is enough to flee forever.
Yet they return. In sorrow. With memories and images no man nor woman nor child should carry. To gather together. To pick up their shattered lives. To rebuild amid the ruin of their homes and communities.
For the 850,000 refugees returning after fleeing the excesses of Slobodan Milosevic’s regime, not all concerns are in the past. Some are immediate; others lie ahead.
Sixty percent of the housing in Kosovo is destroyed. The scorched remains of their houses contain little but ash. Winter comes quickly. September turns cool. The first snows of winter arrive in late October, early November. There is a need for roofs and windows. And blankets.
Yet each day there is change. Signs of the villages and communities coming to life can be seen in the streets. In the faces of those who return. In the debris that is shoveled and carted away. In the smell of new wood replacing the odor of ash. In new glass of once-shattered windows. In stores opening again, if only on simple tables stacked with goods and set before the rubble that was once a shop.
And each day there is new sorrow. In retributions marked by columns of smoke rising above villages and towns, Serb homes burnt so they too will have nothing to return to, if ever they try. In terrorizing Serbs who did not leave, mostly elderly and country people. And in fresh killings in the dark of the night.
Kosovo is a land in desperate need of hope and healing, commodities that seem so far from here.
It is a land in desperate need of the God who walks among us. Who brings peace. Who enters into sorrows and offers healing. A God whose Son was sent long ago for such as these. A Son whose blood soaked the soil of another land not so far from here.
Southern Baptists have mounted a drive to send new blankets to help Kosovo’s returned refugees survive the harsh winter ahead. For information on how churches and individuals can help, call toll-free 1-800-999-3113, ext. 1675 or ext. 1736.