The flooding in Serbia is the worst natural disaster that has hit the country in over 120 years. The Russian Emergency Situations Ministry (EMERCOM) has deployed emergency response forces and equipment to Serbia after a decision was made by the Government of the Russian Federation initiated at the request of the Government of the Republic of Serbia after Serbia was hit by devastating unprecedented flooding reports EMERCOM. According to EMERCOM rescuers with the air search and rescue unit "Centrospas" and from the high risk rescue group "Leader" have been deployed to assist the Serbian people as they struggle to deal with the aftermath and continuing flooding which has seen almost the entire country mercilessly submerged under water. We spoke to Boris Malagurski, a Canadian/Serbian filmmaker and one of the people in Serbia assisting with the aftermath of the disaster.
Robles: Hello, Sir. How are you? It is the middle of the night already, how are you?
Malagurski: I’m doing good. Hello, I am a little tired it’s been a rough day. Well, it’s been rough a couple of days, but I’m doing OK and the best that I can to help in the situation.
Robles: I understand you were in Šabac today and you were helping deliver humanitarian aid. We are starting to get reports of a very, very dire and serious situation in Serbia. Can you tell us, what you saw?
Malagurski: Absolutely, there are people in Šabac that are in dire need of food, water and just basic necessities.
We took kits that have several kinds of substances for disinfection, to keep the sanitary level at an adequate level.
I contacted a couple of people. I was contacted by some students from Belgrade University who wanted to help out and they collected, with the help of people throughout Belgrade and the country, lots of supplies and we went to Šabac.
The Sava River is pretty high and even close to the road, they had to put sand bags just to protect the road. But, at several points the water is seeping through, which is making it very difficult for traffic to go by and for people, to actually get to Šabac.
In fact they are not even letting regular cars go by. Only when we told the police that we were carrying food and supplies for everybody in Šabac, then they let us go through. And when we got to Šabac, what we saw was basically people, who were very, very worried about what was going on; people, who are not very well coordinated in the effort to save the city; people, who have not received food for a very long time, even the people who are working there, who have volunteered and came to Šabac from all parts of Serbia to help out in the effort, many of them haven’t eaten or drank anything since last night.
This is kind of like a frantic effort to avoid what has already happened in Obrenovac. Now, Obrenovac is close to Belgrade, much closer to Belgrade, where the river has flooded the entire city. The government has said they are not even going to announce any reports about how many people have died in Obrenovac. But I have reports from friends, who have indicated that the numbers might be pretty staggering. It’s so much worse than anybody could imagine.
In Obrenovac, we just received information that there is a school that has been waiting to be evacuated for the past couple of days. So, it’s much more criticle there, but what is important is that they are trying to save Šabac and the other critical cities, Sremska Mitrovica. The government has just called 2,000 volunteers to go to Sremska Mitrovica and try to save the city.
What’s important, about Šabac though is if the sand bags give way to the water there are several industries in Šabac that produce very deadly chemicals, that if they were released into the water, it could really cause a mess.
Robles: Oh My God.
Malagurski: Yeah, so it’s pretty horrible. So, everybody is doing the best they can. Last night, estimates are between 5,000 and 10,000 people showed up from Belgrade to Šabac to help with the efforts there.
So, people in Serbia have really woken up and they realize that the situation is really, really horrible and not only to go there and put sand bags, where it’s needed, but also to help out with food, with equipment.
There were streams and streams of people; everybody had at least two bags in their hands, full of supplies, full of food, water, medicine, baby food. So, it’s really, in a way, heart-warming to see, that the people have really opened up their hearts to all these people who have been very displaced.
I personally know several people, who accepted some families into their homes, trying to help. So, it’s a really horrible situation in Serbia in terms of the floods. But the people with their generosity and their hearts are, you know, restoring many people’s faith in humanity.
There are still several waves that are coming from Croatia, because as they successfully build dams that is great for those villages but as the water passes and builds up it gets worse and worse and the worst of it is going to be in Serbia.
Hrtkovci is very critical. The government has just said: “Don’t go to Hrtkovci,” because it’s a very horrible situation down there.
The government is now focusing on evacuating Obrenovac, which is under water still. As I am seeing Šabac and Sremska Mitrovica are still critical. After that passes, we’re going to have a very painstaking process, because a lot of cattle are dead and of course because a lot of people have unfortunately died now we are still waiting for the numbers.
Now we have to work on containing any sort of disease that might breakout. In a sports hall in Belgrade they are already starting to wear masks and there is an outbreak of sorts (this is an unconfirmed report).
So, we’re really trying to do our best in helping the people, feeding the people, making sure that they are safe, but it is very uncertain at this point, because you never know how high the water is going to go. You know, I think we all have to pray a little bit that the water won’t go too high up.
Robles: Have there been any reports of looting?
Malagurski: Moments before the interview, I learned of some gangs in Obrenovac, going with their boats and going inside shops and abandoned homes and stealing stuff.
We’ve heard reports that there are certain shops that have boosted the prices, some say 2 or 3 euros for a loaf of bread.
The Ministry of Trade has issued a warning, but we still can’t even control the scope of it.
Number one priority is to try to help these people that are in dire need of help. So, unfortunately, there are always story which are bad where people will try to exploit the situation and use it in personal way.
Robles: Can you tell us, have you had any contact with Russia’s EMERCOM, with Emergency Situations Ministry, apparently they are heavily involved in Obrenovac?
Malagurski: I’m aware, they are. And, you know, people are aware of this throughout Serbia that the Russian government, the Russian people are really helping us. This means a lot, because we regard Russia as our brothers and it is really refreshing and really heart-warming to see how much effort the Russian team is putting in into saving lives.
I personally have not had any contact with them because the people working in Obrenovac are professionals, but we all know that they are working very hard, we’ve seen the images on TV and we’ve seen interviews, we’ve seem what they are doing. They are well-equipped, well-trained, and I would just liked to use this opportunity in the name of Serbian people to thank the Russian people for being with us in this time of need.
Just a reminder you are listening to an interview with Boris Malagurski.
Robles: As far as the Serbian government; have they been issuing any statements for people to leave certain areas?
Malagurski: They have been issuing statements basically telling people to listen to the authorities, because the problems that we have had in certain areas, where there were evacuations and people go out on the street and they see that there is just a little bit of water and they think themselves: “Ah, this isn’t anything bad.”
And then it hits! In a very short period of time the water appears and then they need help. A lot of people refused to be evacuated only to be in big trouble afterwards.
In Belgrade it is stable at the moment, there are teams at this moment on the other side of the Sava close to the Island of Ada where they are putting up sand bags and there are teams on the Novy Belgorod or New Belgrade side of the Sava as well and they will go well into tomorrow.
All of the basically low areas of the city they are trying to protect, because the big wave is coming sometime tomorrow or the next day. So, right now, it’s stable, but people are very well organized. I personally don’t expect there to be any big problems in Belgrade. And I think it is really critical to help out the cities that are outside of Belgrade and that are less protected than Belgrade.
Robles: Are you getting reports from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo, Bulgaria, that we might not be getting? Western Ukraine is supposed to be flooding as well. What about the other parts of Serbia?
Malagurski: I mostly know about what’s going on in Serbia as I said: there are places that haven’t been in touch with the rest of the world, for example the city of Krupin has been cut off from the rest of Serbia for the past three days. And they’ve been pulling through be themselves, because it’s very hard to approach these cities but they finally have gotten to them today and were getting stories of people that have not slept for days there trying to protect Krupin and many harvests are destroyed simply taken away by the mudflow and the landslides, and stuff like that. There are landslides in several areas around Serbia. So, it’s pretty critical in most places, for example where the Zaiko Morava River has flooded its banks, as for Bosnia we are getting some reports of flooding there the city of Dubway is the most critical where water has reached the fourth floor of some buildings.
Robles: The fourth floor?
Malagurski: Yeah, this one family that is on the fourth floor, they are basically barely safe there. The water is right beneath them and the situation is out of control in many parts of Bosnia.
The Serbian media is much more focus about on what’s happening over here, because there is so much to do right here, right now, but in Bosnia, I know in Dubway, it’s catastrophic. In some other parts like Tusla it is also pretty bad. They have evacuated Dvornik and some other places.
So, they are doing the best they can as well over there and Serbia has received help from some other courtiers, like Obrenovac where the Russians are really helping out is really critical at this point.
We are all waiting to see, how many people have died there, because it’s much much worse that anybody could imagine.
Robles: Could you comment on the European Union? Have they been actively helping?
Malagurski: I think the best description of how the EU sees the situation in Serbia is when Catherine Ashton said: “our minds are with you”. That is great but we need some substantial help.
I do believe several EU countries have sent some kind of aid. I personally haven’t seen it, I’ve heard much about it unlike the Russian help where you can actually see them and they are doing something and it is actually saving people’s lives.
With other countries like EU countries, I can’t personally see what is going on, so I am not going to claim that they haven’t done much but I personally haven’t seen it.
From what they’ve been saying on TV or seeing how much media in the EU are covering, or should I say not covering the mess in Serbia, really shows they have much different priorities than saving lives in Serbia.
Robles: That’s horrible.
Malagurski: If anybody is listening, we would really appreciate as much help as we can get from other counties. We have got help, I am not saying that we didn’t but the situation is critical. It is really the worst natural disaster Serbia has gone through, I believe for the past 125 years. So, we need a little bit more help and less of somebody feeling bad about us. We need people to come here and help us like the Russians have.
Robles: Right, right! While I got you on the air. What numbers, what websites, where can people go to… I don’t know, maybe donate something? Maybe they can volunteer or something or somehow help.
Malagurski: There is a website for everybody outside of Serbia who would like to donate and help. It’s called http://www.serbsforserbs.org/. They have donations with credit cards, PayPal and they are very transparent, one of the very few humanitarian organizations I really trust because every donation they get, they put it on the website. Basically if people want to help, they can go on the website, they can help as much as they can.
There is a lot of people in Serbia who want to help out, who want to go and dig up the sand and put it in bags and everything. But for example one of the problems they have they don’t have enough shovels, they don’t have enough send. They are trying to get enough trucks to bring the sand.
For the first night, last night, when people went to Šabac to volunteer, what basically happened is there was a bunch of people in a line waiting to carry the sand bags and there would be one truck that would bring in the sand bags, they take them all out and within 15 minutes they put them in place and it was done, and they were waiting for another hour for the truck to show up again.
That is how little supplies we have. There are enough people who want to help but we need more supplies, we need more expertise, somebody who is trained, who knows what to do in these types of situations, to organize the masses that are going out and trying to help in any way possible. So, any kind of expertise, any kind of donations for supplies would really mean a lot to the people of Serbia right now.
Robles: So, they have a site, they have a PayPal mechanism. What about some other sites, phone numbers for the ministries or something where people could possibly find out about their loved ones?
Malagurski: If people go on the website b92.net click on the English version, they can find information on how to donate from outside, and if you click on any news about the flooding in Serbia, you will find information about the account that was set up by the government for donations for the flood victims, and it is on the website of Serbian government as well. If you type in “Serbian government” on Google and you go on the website, you can find that as well.
I’d really like to ask everybody around the world who has seen the images of the flooding, who has heard what the floods are doing to the people of Serbia and how many people are at risk, to open their hearts and help us in any way possible because they can really save life, they can save life by any kind of donation that they are capable of doing because we really need it. A small donation goes a long way in Serbia. So, any amount is greatly appreciated and we really are very happy that there are people who have opened up their hearts and support. So, together with everybody who is with us at this moment, we will pull through.
Robles: I would also ask everybody who is listening to this to please try to do something concrete to help the people in Serbia.
You were listening to an interview with Mr. Boris Malagurski. He is a Serbian-Canadian film director and an activist. Thank you very much for listening and we wish you the best wherever you may be.