Blogbox | War

Ten stories and a poem about war

By - 04.03.2022

The war in Ukraine brings back the memories of another war.

The war in Ukraine started on February 24. For days now, the Ukrainian people have been experiencing everything a war brings –– the deaths of loved ones, the flight from home, shootings and flames, the apprehension about what will come next, the revolt against occupation and the hope that better days will come.

Meanwhile, not many years ago, there was a war in Kosovo. The war in Ukraine reminds us that even when war ends, memories remain. For many people in Kosovo these memories were the reason for the strong solidarity they have shown with Ukrainians. Our realities, for better or worse, are inseparable from each other.

K2.0 asked survivors of the war in Kosovo how they felt and what they thought about when they heard of the start of another war.

These are their stories.

Sadete Tërnava-Osmani
“These days, while the war in Ukraine is killing people, here in Kosovo we only need something small to happen for all the feelings of insecurity and fear to come back, those feelings stay close to each other, like the seasons.

These days, every bit of news from Ukraine, most of the time, connects me with the memories of 23 years ago from our war. It comes right away as if it was sleeping within me. Traumatic experiences, inert strength and hope are the three pillars of the individual, family and collective drama of our country. Of course, it still surfaces even though you tell yourself that they are not of the same nature and time. And I see that these memories bring back the unforgettable and remind us that we are not just an ordinary audience. We went through that.”

Verona Selimi
“I did not experience Kosovo’s war myself. But my curiosity as a child led me to search for stories about it. Despite that I vaguely understood war as something harsh, accompanied by fear and terror. With the passing years, war’s meaning has become more clear… but the stories about it, I hardly thought they could be clarified by a war somewhere else. The conflict in Ukraine changed that. Besides changing my routine, it made me create potential post-conflict scenarios, making me understand at least some of the terror my people went through two decades ago. Ukraine has revived our fading collective memory of the war in Kosovo.”

Violeta Hyseni Kelmendi
“Ukraine’s war brought back the dark days of our history, the days when Kosovo was on fire and each of our lives was endangered at all times. Expelled from our homes, frightened old men, women and children wandered the streets in fear and anxiety, seeking a safe place to shelter.

When we left Kosovo, after experiencing the NATO airstrikes on Serbian targets and then weeks of crimes committed against Albanian civilians by the Serbian military, for the first time I knew what it meant to be a refugee.

When I see the devastating scenes in Ukraine today, the killing, the gunmen, the tanks on the streets, the houses and buildings in flames, I cannot help but remember the time when gunshots and grenades were terrorizing us. I once watched terrified from the window of the seventh floor of my apartment, as the Serbian police and soldiers were setting fire to houses around our neighborhood. When I see people fleeing to neighboring countries, they remind me of the time when my whole family was expelled en masse from Mitrovica and set off on foot towards Albania, passing in front of the Serbian paramilitaries.

I have deep empathy with the Ukrainian people and I pray that this war will end as soon as possible, with as few consequences as possible. My heart hurts to see refugee women and young children who have left their fathers, brothers or husbands behind and do not know if they will see them again. I pray that this war ends as soon as possible, with as few victims as possible, and that humankind does not experience such wars again.”

Ragip Luta
“When your own country has gone through wars, similar in terms of the military inequality between the two sides, the images coming from Ukraine immediately bring you back to those difficult days. They make you feel again and share the pain of the terrible suffering of the population who are absolutely innocent and helpless. Attacks on civilian targets, refugee queues, children from the oncology ward sheltered in the basement in Chernihiv waiting for missiles — it all reminds me of the massacres of Abri, Reçak, Suhareka, Krusha, Podujeva. In the 21st century, when you thought that, at least in Europe, after the recent wars in the Balkans, there could no longer be a war of this scale, these events make you feel hopeless.

But on the other hand, Ukraine is proving that Putin –– even if he temporarily wins this war –– has no chance of subduing people that are brave enough to face tanks empty-handed. And perhaps as a lesson from World War II, but also from the war in Kosovo, the world is proving that it does not want to be tarnished by supporting an aggressor. In fact, with unprecedented economic measures, it has practically declared war on the Russian regime and is sparing no effort to isolate a dictator and prevent him from pursuing his ill-fated ambitions.

If it does not come to the worst (a nuclear war that would be catastrophic for all of humanity), from what we have gone through these last two or three decades, we can imagine the consequences of all this. Numerous victims, missing people, lives destroyed forever, economies on their knees, war crimes trials and the dark stain created by a mad leader that people of another country will need time to remove. We have now a dictator, one who by definition is short-sighted, who has thought up the end of others, but has not thought up his own end or the consequences for his own people.”

Aurela Kadriu
“I was too young to remember memories and experiences from the 1999 war in Kosovo. Therefore, I am aware that most of the visual images in my head when I think about it are built from the stories that have been conveyed to me by family, school and society, and later by my research work. Despite this distance created by not having direct experience of the war, it has been incredibly present, especially during my formative years, and continues to be so today, 22 years after its end.

All I am thinking about as I follow the war in Ukraine is how many generations will grow up in “peace” –– that fragile post-war immediate peace. Is there an end to the circle –– armed war > fragile peace > transfer of trauma > glorification of the liberation movement > the lessons of peacekeeping missions and peace agreements > heedlessness when peace is threatened > return to the militarization of civilians > war > repeat. In short, how many other children will experience the war without really experiencing it?”

Rrahman Paçarizi
“The air raid sirens in Kyiv on February 24 took me back 23 years, back to March 24 in Prishtina. The NATO airstrikes in Prishtina heralded liberation, the return of hope for freedom. The sirens in Kyiv herald the beginning of hell. 

There are parallels to the feeling of being uncertain about what tomorrow will bring, along with the parallels about the dilemma of leaving or staying, the separated families, the confrontation with powerful enemies and the international solidarity. The difference is that Ukraine has its own civil-military structures, and Kosovo was already occupied –– Kosovo fought to have freedom, Ukraine is fighting to defend its freedom.”

Bekim Guri
“What is happening in Ukraine, among other things, brought to my mind a memory. The OSCE’s cars, those orange cars, were more powerful to me than the NATO intervention. When we saw such a car in the village we felt safe and slept peacefully. Although the KLA, among them two of my brothers and many fellow villagers, was close by protecting us, with the internationals there, the Serbs never confronted us. I remember whenever someone got sick, they were escorted by an OSCE car to the doctor and it was safe. When crossing Serbian checkpoints, if you were in the company of this magical orange vehicle, you could pass without a problem. It was something magical, this color. In a time of war, it was a color that provided safety against death. We wanted the war to end as soon as possible so that other colors would come, colors of peace.

The moment we got the news that the OSCE was leaving Kosovo was one of the most difficult moments during the war. We went to see the convoy of orange cars leaving Kosovo. The highway from the entrance of our village to the entrance of Kaçanik (where we lived, in the village of Nikaj) turned orange, this queue of cars became like a long train that was taking away from us the only hope we had. The color orange disappeared.

Fear began to grow, not because I was going to die, I wasn’t afraid of my own death. I was afraid that someone from my family would be killed. The NATO intervention began.

Dardan Hoti
“This situation is haunting me all the time. As much as I am trying to avoid the news about the Ukraine war, it is impossible. There is always someone who mentions it in the office. When I talk to my parents, they are already in front of the TV and it is a constant topic of discussion. When I go back home it is the same. It is affecting everyone. In addition, there were two or three nights when I even dreamed of being in war, with many police around and turbulent situations. In the first days when the Russian attacks on Ukraine began, I wasn’t very productive at work. I did not understand why I was feeling that way.

Also, I have a friend from Ukraine and I feel bad and frustrated when I see his stories on social media. He is there, trying to hide and find shelter. One day I texted him, telling him that I understood his situation and what he is going through. And he just replied, “Just pray for us.” I felt so bad I didn’t even know what to text back. This returns me, again, to what I saw and what we went through in 1999 in Kosovo.”

Krenare Buzhala
“I was born during the war and my birthday has always been associated with it. I was known by other people as the “girl of war,” and even though I tried to avoid the war and the events related to it, the war has followed me in one way or another. Growing up with relatives’ stories about war experiences, it was never too easy to understand it to the core. I don’t know the feeling of leaving behind your home and your memories, the people and your previous life, in order to remain alive. People who experienced the last war in Kosovo conveyed this experience to me.

Some say you cannot worry about something you have never had, because you don’t know how it feels to have it. I didn’t feel the same sadness, or perhaps the same hatred, that people who have told me about their war experiences feel in their bodies.

Something that gave me a taste of the real, and that for a few seconds I could see as similar to the war in Kosovo, were the images of buildings in Ukraine, half destroyed by Russian attacks. Looking at the Ukrainian refugees, I saw an image of my own country at a time when I was just a baby. My limited experience with the war has made me realize that among us there are still untold events that live and die with the people who have experienced them. No one wants to go back in time, 23 years back, and remember the war, but the war seems to come back all by itself. In Kosovo, people have used this time to express themselves, their sadness, and to show support for Ukraine, because those who have experienced the same pain know it best.”

Bashkim Fazliu
“Since the beginning of the Russian aggression in Ukraine, the thing I was most happy about and what I hope to see continued and even grow stronger, is the determination of the West to stand by the terrorized people of this country. The greater the support for the people of Ukraine the greater my hope for the establishment of cosmic justice. The situation is clear, and the reaction must be firm. The lack of punishment or provision of unconditional assistance is certainly one of the greatest traumas immediately after the horrific trauma of the aggressor’s attack.

I remember very well my feelings when during the aggression against Kosovo there were those who called for “all parties to calm down.” At the same time the “thinkers” of the extreme right and left philosophized on the perpetrators’ right to receive a security guarantee or otherwise pretended to be fighting Western imperialism by ignoring the victims of a bloodthirsty attack aimed at the annihilation of a group of people. At this unfortunate moment, words of courage for the victims need to echo out. Condemnations of the violence resound and the devastated victims should be further encouraged with words of comfort and hope to resist further.

I say this with complete certainty because every act that showed sympathy towards us during the tragedy caused by Milošević’s Serbia was a serum that helped me survive another day. The statements that “the victim has provoked the violence” only added more shock and trauma. 

Peace and love for Ukraine!”


Feature Image: Arrita Katona / K2.0.



This article has been produced with the financial support of the “Balkan Trust for Democracy,” a project of the German Marshall Fund of the United States and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Balkan Trust for Democracy, the German Marshall Fund of the United States, or its partners.

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