Suffering of Sick and Elderly in the Besieged Sarajevo
“Death is at Home Here”
For elderly Bosnians, outlook is grim from a Sarajevo shelter
By Samir Krilic
The Free Lance-Star, p.A4
21 February 1995.
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Crammed onto one floor of a former school, dozens of elderly Bosnians silently await the end of the war, or their lives, whichever comes first.
The makeshift old people’s home was set up in August 1993 in a shell-shattered school building several hundred yards from the front line. It shelters 64 sick and old people with no one to turn to.
One doctor, five nurses, four orderlies and a social worker try to cope with the needs both of their live-in charges and 150 other elderly people, many living on their own.
Conditions are miserable. Many of the elderly are too sick or feeble to make it to the toilet, so they relieve themselves on the floor or in bed. Natural gas for heat is scarce, so rooms are often icy. For most, frugal meals of beans, lentils and rice are the only break in a day of staring at the walls.
The Red Cross contributes some canned food once a month. U.N. peacekeepers from France provide occasional favors — food, medicine, gasoline for the home’s single car, and once old clothes donated by family members. Local charities have been able to help out with aid only three times since the home started.
“What they get is not nearly enough,” said Nina Winquist, a Red Cross representative.
Dobrila Mulina, a 70-year-old retired history professor, spends her days in the smelly, narrow corridor.
Sitting in her wheelchair at a table packed with books, Mulina, affectionately known to her companions as “Seka” (Sister”, reads daily in an effort to escape the harsh reality of her life.
“I live in my isolated little world of literature,” she said, absently stroking her gray hair. “The apathy and the boredom of others around me makes me miserable and desperate.”
Her resilience is all the more remarkable given her suffering — chronic diabetes forced doctors to recently amputate her right leg because increasingly poor circulation led to the threat of gangrene.
A daily shot of insulin each morning helps her relax and begin her day’s reading.
She prefers the dark corridor to the room she shares with nine other women, most of them so sick they rarely leave their beds. Despite a broken window, stale air is heavy in the overcrowded room.
Without a single television or a radio for entertainment the day ends with the onset of dusk.
“I take a sleeping pill so as not to think about the past, the present, and the grim future,” Mulina said. She clings to hope that once the war is over, her daughter and grandchildren, who live in Liverpool, England, will come to take her away from the misery.
Abid Jahic [Bosniak], 69, fled with his family from Rogatica, 35 miles east of Sarajevo, when Serbs captured it at the beginning of the war.
The Jahic’s left for Zepa, an eastern enclave held by the Muslim-dominated government. Jahic was seriously wounded by a shell and was evacuated by the United Nations to Zenica for medical treatment, while his wife and two daughters stayed behind.
Unable to return to the besieged enclave, Jahic came to Sarajevo where he was left to fend for himself.
“If the officials here in the home hadn’t allowed me to stay, I would have died,” Jahic said. “All I want is to see my family one more time before I die.”