The killing of Serbian children in Kosovo: the story of a survivor
“It is not so scary to die as to be buried alive” - this is the inscription on the monument to the victims of Albanian terrorists and the NATO aggression in the small town of Gorazdevac, an oasis and at the same time a ghetto for the Serbian population in Metohija. There are portraits of two boys on the monument - Panto Dakic and Ivan Jovovic. They died on August 13, 2003 on the bank of the Bistrica River when unknown persons opened fire at the people resting there. Four more teenagers were wounded at that moment. Concerning one of them, Bogdan Bukumiric, 15 years of age, the doctors gave the following forecast: 96% chance of death and 4% chance of survival. He survived. He is 24 now, he lives in Belgrade, and when he read the story about the recent acts of vandalism in Kosovo (the monument in Gorazdevac was shot at) published by the Voice of Russia web site, he agreed to share with our journalists his memories of that horrible crime that nobody has been held responsible for.
Bogdan was born in Gorazdevac, where according to him after 1999 people turned immune to the sounds of shooting. After the war and the NATO aggression, which ended in the withdrawal of Serbian troops, the life there was difficult. The village had a population of 1000 and was surrounded by only Albanian settlements. The closest large city is Pec. They had to go there to buy food escorted by KFOR. There was no end to the Albanian provocations: Bogdan's aunt, Milica Bukumiric, was killed at the doors to her house as somebody threw a grenade into her yard. The youth was isolated from the world – there was no entertainment, no chance to travel from the village; all they had left was only the community at school and around it. There was not even a swimming pool. Why “even”? Perhaps that fact played the lethal role in the whole story…
"My house was the closest to the river. On August 13 all my friends who passed by my house called upon me to go for a swim. I asked my father if I could go. My dad had something like a premonition. He said that I should not go, that the water was still cold. But then I asked again, and as a result went along with my friends. There were a lot of kids at the Bistrica River, as well as lots of youth and parents. I entered the water, it was really cold, and so I went to the fire. Less than ten minutes later I heard machine gun fire. My friends and me stood closest to the terrorists. Three bullets hit me in the left side. The guys and I knew that forest they were shooting from pretty well. I realized that if they came out of the bushes, I would see them. I sharply turned in that direction they were firing from – a few more bullets hit me in the breast and stomach. My legs gave in, I began to fall down, and at that moment a bullet hit me in the head. And the eighth bullet hit my left leg".
Bogdan cried for help and still tried to get up. The villagers brought the boy to the hospital at the KFOR military base, but the doctor was not there. The wounded boy received the first aid at the local clinic; primarily they tried to stop the bleeding. Bogdan was conscious and kept asking the doctors to take his brother away from the room, as he did not want him to see him in such a state. The local resident demanded that the KFOR personnel take the boy to the hospital in Pec, but they found millions of excuses not to do it. As a result, Bogdan's brother and his neighbor at their own risk drove him in a car to the completely Albanian town of Pec. «Bogdan, hold on, you are a hero, you will live», - they kept saying. «I will not surrender», - was Bogdan's answer.
«Unfortunately, near the farmers' market in Pec our car engine stopped. Our license plates were Serbian, so the Albanians attacked us. They destroyed the car, crushed the windows and wanted to drag us out of the car. They hit my neighbor who was trying to start the engine with their fists on the head; my brother was hit with a stone. There was neither mercy nor pity, although they saw a person who was hardly alive. If they dragged us out, we would have not survived. But fortunately, two KFOR patrol cars appeared and started shooting into the air. Up until that moment I was still conscious, but then I was in coma. What happened next I know from the stories of those who were with me».
Bogdan Bukumiric was first admitted to the local hospital. Another victim of the shooting, Panto Dakic, was there as well.
"Panto was in a bed next to mine. Both the medical personnel and the patients had fun: “You wanted Kosovo, here you go!”, “Whoever did this, he is a good guy!”. Panto’s father would hold his son’s hand in one hand and mine in the other. An Albanian doctor came, but Panto’s father did not let him examine us, since he did not trust him. At that moment my friend died. The doctors believed that I died as well. However, a doctor who came from our village established that I was still alive. She insisted that they transport me by helicopter to the Northern part of Mitrovica. KFOR people said that they needed to get permission. She tried to convince them for three hours, and finally, a helicopter brought in another wounded, Marco Bogicevic to Prizren, and then they took me to the hospital of the French KFOR troops in the Southern part of Kosovska Mitrovica".
Milenka Cvetkovic, a doctor from the Northern part of Mitrovica played the most important role in saving Bogdan's life. When she found out about what had happened, despite the risk she went to the Southern, Albanian, part of the city where the French KFOR doctors operated on Bogdan's spleen (the bullet passes in two millimeters from his left kidney). But when there was a delay in getting a neurosurgeon, the doctor insisted that the boy was taken to Belgrade. Naturally, a Serbian helicopter could not be allowed to land on the territory of Kosovo, but first that information was not openly stated. So in a car Bogdan was taken to central Serbia and from there – to the Military Medical Academy in the capital. Bogdan's blood pressure went down to 40, but the doctor took all the necessary measures and it was stabilized. Due to the endless bureaucratic delays of KFOR, the entire process of transporting half-alive boy took 11 hours.
"When the doctors at the Military Medical Academy found out that in my body there was only 1.4 liters of blood instead of the normal 5-5.5 liters, they decided not to do the surgery right away. I was given a blood transfusion and the surgery was planned for the next morning. They forecast was the following: 4% chance for survival, 96% chance to die. On August 19, at Transfiguration I was out of coma. My neurosurgeon said that he did not believe that I would regain consciousness, it all depended on my organism".
But it was only the beginning: Bogdan had a high fever and it turned out that the splinters of the bone damaged the cortex. Bogdan survived through four surgeries, had meningitis, and was motionless for four months – only the right side of his body functioned. But thanks to the exercises and of course, his perseverance he got back on his feet. Many high-ranking officials visited him at the hospital, including Harri Holkeri, who at that time was the UNMIK chief.
"He hurried to catch a plane; he asked me about my health and wished me a fast recovery and return to my home village, where everything was peaceful and under control. I asked him: Mr. Holkeri, can I ask you a question? Have you arrested the criminals? He clearly did not expect such a question from a 15-year old boy. He was at a loss and said that they were working on it, but had not collected sufficient evidence".
For many years has Bogdan corresponded with various international organizations in Kosovo. They promised to «leave no stone unturned » in order to find the murderers: between 2003 and 2007 nothing much was done, then a new group started the investigation from scratch. They wrote to him that if new evidence came up, the investigation would be continued. But all the same, - says Bogdan, - justice will eventually take over.
"Monsters did that. To shoot at children who are having fun at the river… The youngest kids were about five years old. And it was a specifically developed plan – to scare us. They could not drive us away from the village and decided to strike at the most sensitive place for every person – the children".
Bogdan has gone through many recovery courses, but even now he cannot fully control his left arm. Maybe in Russia there are doctors that can help me, because after all that I have gone through, I deserve to have everything right, - he says. However, the fate has another «surprise» in store for Bogdan Bukumiric. In 2003 he received an apartment in the Serbian capital as a long-term use with the right to buy it out. Then the decision was changed, and now every year he has no sign an agreement to extend the lease. Bogdan is afraid that one day they would come to remind him of such a thing as market driven terms and would tell him to move out.
"The publication "Večernje novosti" has launched a campaign to collect funds to buy out the apartment. They estimated its value to be 59 thousand euro; I do not have that much money. Thus, I am forced to ask others for help, as it appears that the state is not interested in my problem. Right now about 6 thousand has been raised. I don't know where to get the remaining sum. This problem needs to be resolved within a month or two".
Bogdan lives with his brother and father. His mother died when the boy was five. He is currently not working, although he graduated from a school for electricians. He is completely dedicated to staying healthy. Bogdan Bukumiric cannot go back to Gorazdevac as he has to constantly be under the observation of the best available doctors in the capital. But the other children wounded on August 13, 2003, continue to live in the village of Gorazdevac. The families of the killed Panto and Ivan are also there.
"At the Gorazdevac cemetery there is a church that is the oldest in the Balkans. It was built without a single nail eight centuries ago. And I believe it protects my homeland. Gorazdevac was not burned down during World War I, it was not abandoned in World War II, or in the 1999 war or during all the events that followed; my village lived through all that".
Irina Antanasijevic, the teacher of the Russian language and literature, who has lived in Kosovo for any years wrote in her memoires about the early 2000s: "The disarmament of Kosovo was the disarmament of the Serbian peasants, the shooting of who then turned into a sport of some sort. It was not even an extreme kind of sport. There was no danger. Go… shoot… leave, and then soldiers would arrive who would deal with the evacuation of the dead bodies and turning the stones…"