Ukrainian Refugee

Hello everyone! My name is Tanya Mahel, my maiden name is Danylyuk. I’m 32 years old. I have a son, his name is Arsen, he’s almost 8. He went to school. I had my own peaceful life, I had a big house with a big and green yard. I had a job. I had our beloved German shepherd dog. I had nice clothes and pretty shoes. 

You ask me why I write everything in the past tense? Because one February day changed everything in my life, in lives of all Ukrainian people. 
So, how it was?

On February, 23 2022  it was very cold and dark evening. Our dog was very nervous and was barking all time. We were scared. 

Our morning on February 24 started as usual. I got up at 6 a.m., I prepared the breakfast, put on my clothes, my son woke up and we were ready to go out. My phone got a message. My son’s teacher wrote that the war started, cities like Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk were bombed by Russian soldiers and all schools and kindergartens became closed. Time has stopped.

How did I feel at that moment? I felt despair, pain, fear, anger. These were emotions that could not be described, they just had to be experienced. There was only one question in my head, what to do next?

When I was getting to my work, I saw a lot of people near the shops and supermarkets. Gas stations were overcrowded with cars, a huge crowd of people at ATMs and empty shelves in pharmacies. Chaos and panic were in the streets. This is the beginning of the great Ukrainian struggle for independence and democracy.

It would seem that this day lasted an eternity, and the night was the longest in my life. We were very scared. We spent a few days in our basement. Today is the 21st century, but we left our home and had to live in a cold and damp basement, because it was safe place. 

In a few days, we decided to go abroad to our relatives in Poland. Only women and children could go. Our fathers, husbands, brothers, adult sons stayed in Ukraine. Our, I even don’t know how to say, way or trip to Poland was hard and very long. We just took one small bag with documents and some necessary stuff. It was night, there were a lot of policemen, women, sleeping babies, children, old people on the Ukrainian-Polish border. And, you know, it was  terrible.

People left their homes, houses, they left everything just to save their lives. So, we did the same. We left everything in Ukraine, house, jobs, clothes, pretty shoes and so on… And now we’re in Poland, in a foreign country without job, without money, without my dad and other native and beloved people. My mom is very upset. I don’t know how to explain to my son why we left Ukraine and why he should study in a Polish school. Every day we pray God, that the war is over.  We are afraid every day, emotionally it is very difficult to realize that in Poland we have to start our  life anew. 

What does it mean war? War is a lot of bombs, crying, human cries, fire, death, horror, destroyed houses, streets, cities, infrastructure, the economy as a whole.

Just few days ago my native city was bombed by Russian rockets. This is the war, our today’s terrible reality.

I, my mom and my little son, are reduced to begging everyone to help us in this difficult time. We are just one family!

Lina, US vet: Small Woman, Big Truck

linaAngelina is small women from a protected  Italian-American family in a small New York community  She joined the military for school benefits before 9/11 and thus, before the war in Afghanistan.

Her first impression of warfare was seeing shots of the Gulf War on the six o’clock news, sitting with her mother and grandparents, seeing the explosions on their not so good TV and wondering if the people being bombed were still alive and if their families were all right.  She worried about them and was glad she was not wherever those scary things were happening.

Unlike her father and grandfather, Angelina had no war.  But the Afghan war became her war. Continue reading

Love is what makes me strong – Elife’s Story

Kosova201513 You may have everything and then lose everything, but still you continue living,  because human beings are stronger than stones.

From my story I want people to understand from all that I have been through and that life has no guarantees.

Kosova: I’m Elife, a 45 year old mother of two children. Married to a man that I loved.  I was lucky because my parents  gave me permission to choose my own husband  compared to many of my other friends whose parents found their husbands.  My friends were forced to marry even if they didn’t like the man they chose.

In the beginning our marriage was a miracle. I was 25 years old, and my husband 29, we loved each other, at least so I thought.  Two years after we were married our first daughter Emma was born  and two years later the second daughter, Linda. Life became harder, since  neither my husband or me was working and the children had their needs, so my husband proposed to go abroad to work in order to improve our economical life. I agree with that and he went in Germany.  Sometimes he sent  us money, even though it wasn’t much, I welcomed it  because  it was the only resource we had to survive.

After one year he came back, and proposed to divorce me but just by documents, because as he  said” I’m going marry with an old lady just in papers, just legally but not as a real husband, and after three years I will divorce with her, and take you and children there” I believed him blandly and did it. I signed. Then he called less and less and he didn’t send money. And then one day he called me.  It was a very quick call and said ” don’t wait for me, continue your life because I will not come back any more.”

I was shocked, I had two children, one four years old and the other one two years old.  I had no house, no place to live and not even support from the state, I felt like I was in an abyss. I was living by charity from everybody, from my friends and relatives. I became very depressed and went to live to my brother house.  He had  six children and he was economically in very bad times.  I was another burden for him.

His wife clearly didn’t like me, and I really understood her situation. I felt bad, guilty.  Then one of my relatives gave me a very old house to live in and I was happy because I could breath freely. I started to  stabilize my live.

I worked with my hands embroidering and sewing.  In this way, I could maintain my  family. I always been a happy person who loved life and I wanted topass that on to my two daughters.  With my whole spirit I  tried  to offer them joy in their lives,  but we were on the brink of war which truly terrified me.  In war, nothing stays the same and you do not know what is going to happen to you.

We lived in a town that was more affected from war than others. But in our neighborhood, the enemy forces didn’t came but still, more and more of the houses grew more empty as people left because they were so afraid of what would happen if they stayed.

Some of them went to the mountains; some who had more money went to Macedonia or Albania. I stayed until April 1999 because I just didn’t know what to do. My children at that time were 6 and 4 years old. I couldn’t go to the mountain and stay because I didn’t have enough food to last us a while and I didn’t go to Albania or Macedonia because I had no money. But money or not, food or not, I left on April 3, when I saw that every single person in our neighborhood was leaving. I joined the column of hundreds of people, some from my neighborhood, and some from other villages.

We walked on a main road toward Macedonia, with the hope that my daughters and me might be able to get on a tractor during our trip. My daughters were so young and there were other children as well but most had help carrying the children.  In the column, people grew very tired. We were mainly woman and children though here and there you could see an old man.  Some of the column of people had been walking for days from other towns. I held my two daughters by their hands and wore on my back, a bag with some food and some clothes.

Fortunately the weather was good.  Sometimes police automobiles drove by and scared me very much but they continued on their way. Their purpose was to remove us from our country and we were walking in that direction. Walking with two tired little girls in dusty shoes.

We walked very slowly for around 5 hours. My four years old daughter was very very tired by this time and begged me to hold her in my arms, but I was too loaded up and could hold her a very short time. It was so hard – small tired children, crying, begging me to hold them, me, a very tired worried mother.

It was when the column stopped, remember there are hundreds of us and a message came down through the line of people, frantic whispers that there was a road block of enemy forces before us in a few miles who were stopping and beating everyone.  So the people around me decided get off the main road and head into the mountain. I went with them with my tired children in tow.  With the back having grown very heavy – who knew that so little could weigh so much.

1-dhunimi-385x150As we, the smaller group around fifty or seventy five people, moved toward the mountain we suddenly we found our self-surrounded by enemy. They jumped out at us from the side of the road.  Some of them were dressed like solders and some were dressed in black with head scarves.  I had heard that those men with head scarves were very dangerous.  All of us were in a panic and begun screaming and crying. Then there were shots.  Everyone grew silent.  And we waited for what would happen next.

In Albanian language one said:  “Everyone sit down and if you want to stay alive you will do what we will say.”

Automatically, everyone sat including the children. My daughters were sitting on my lap. Emma seemed very scared, because she was older and could understand things while Linda didn’t know what was happening but she did not want to sit still in my lap.  She wanted to stand up and I had to keep her sitting by force. She was crying and struggling. Two of the Serbs came near us and started choosing woman.

You, you and you.

I prayed God that they would not choose me.  I kept my head down tucked behind children when I heard,  “YOU come here!

My heart was beating so fast, so hard, it was trying to fly from my chest and I barely lifted my head to see if this call was for me. When he said, “Yes YOUUU!”

I was entirely frozen.

Please, I have children. These little girls.

Both of my daughters were crying in terror.

Shssssh. He roughly told them to be quiet.

Where is your husband?

He is in Germany.


He laughed ironically.

Fighting with Serbs yes? Come here.

He had stopped laughing and yelled.

Come here!

Linda would not let go of my hand.


I begged him but he said to my daughters.

Mami is coming to help us. She will come back again.

At least he was not cruel to the children. Many were.

And he forced me to go with him, dragged me really, away from my crying screaming children. Someone near me reached to help the children.

Mami, Mami.

There were many woman chosen and all of us were directed toward different  places in the forest. One of the men knocked me down and ripped at my clothes, opened his and start raping me.  As I tried to resist, he hit me in the face and filled my bleeding mouth with oak leafs so I couldn’t scream.  He was so beastly.  As he beat me he called me horrible disgusting name. After he finished raping me, he called the other man over, who was watching and he raped me as well. After, I just lay there on the wet ground, muddy and covered with small sticks and leaves with my upper clothes torn completely away. I tried to cover myself with hands.  Then, they told me that I could go back to the other people.

When I returned stumbling toward the group, I saw their faces register horror, disbelief and disgust. I turned away. I felt filthy all the way through my bones and completely humiliated.  My daughters were crying and when they saw me they ran to hug me. Everyone was looking at me. An older woman gave me her jacket to cover myself.

After some hours the enemy let us move.

It was already dark when we arrived in a unfamiliar small town. We were so tired, just a small group of twenty people all woman and children.  We decided to stay in one of the kindergarten schools.  There were beds and blankets there for the children’s naps, so we stayed the night. I cleaned myself as best I could – there was running water — but I would not feel fully clean for a very long time and I was completely numb. I couldn’t even cry.

My mind was beyond control and just wanted to replay the act of mud, rape, oak leafs and the beatings which went on for years – the memory came to life for years, something would happen and it all rushed back — I was there lying in the forest being raped and injured.

In the morning at the kindergarten, one family offered to take me and my children in their old paint faded farm truck. It was blue, I think.  I looked away from the whole trip but expressed gratitude as we traveled to Albania to a refugee camp where my daughters and I stayed with thousands of others until the end of the war.

Immediately after the war, I came back home transported from Albania with many others. We were told we were free and safe. My home was not destroyed, but my soul was — I felt dirty, humiliated and very far away from free and safe. I could not speak. The entire neighborhood knew what had happened to me, and it seemed that every one of them was pointing a finger toward me. I did not want to go out. I hid in my house with my children.

Eventually, I changed neighborhoods. I went to live in my sister’s house.  During the war she went as a refugee to live in Norway. So, I could use her house.  She sent me money as she could so I could survive with Emma and Linda. I lived a very isolated life and I didn’t go out from the house for months.

I didn’t want to see the light of the sun, me, who used to love life now it seemed that my life had ended.  Really.  Sometimes when I did go out from necessity, food and all I felt the people I saw were talking about me, every one of them was talking about me — every glance toward me was another bullet in a wound that never healed. I had forgotten how to behave as a mother, sister or friend. I forgot how it was to take and give a smile. I had simply forgotten how it was to live. I was dead among the living.

After fourteen years of this numb dead life, things began to change when I was encouraged by someone I knew to call for assistance in a rehabilitation center for women. After that, I started exposure therapy and the light at the end of tunnel began to shine and call me to leave that dark muddy place, to take the oak leafs from my mouth and speak. As I spoke, nothing horrible happened and the memory that lives began to drain of self-loathing and I began to feel safe and supported. I began to reclaim my life. I could once again see grass and blossoms and sky.  I could smile and say hello to people without shame as that old world in shades of black faded into color and I became a real mother again. I could be with my children in play and joy. It was the best feeling I ever had.  I was a dead person brought back to life where breathe could move in my chest and my eyes could open again to the bright world around me.

Today I work as a house keeper and have a very quiet life with my two daughters. I am so proud of them. Emma is studying education in college.  Linda is still in high school.  I rent a flat that I can pay for by myself. What a wonderful feeling to be able to depend only on myself. I am so grateful that I’m alive again really try to enjoy every second of my life.

I worked very hard in therapy ( she had prolonged exposure therapy).  I didn’t want my past to destroy my present and my future.  And even more important, I didn’t want my past to destroy my children’s future.  They deserve more.

Today I don’t see myself as a victim, but as a survivor — I survived my trauma. This does not mean that I’ve forgotten what I have experienced, that will never happen. I will never forget but I realized that life must go on. And it has.

Now I walk with pride replacing the shame I felt for so many years and I do not isolate myself.  Who should be ashamed and isolated are those men who committed the crime.

Someday, I want to hear that my abusers will pay for what they did, not just to me but all the surviving 20,000 other woman who were raped and tortured in my country.

Teuta: Escape and Return

In this piece,  Besire, a trauma psychotherapist/psychologist in Pristina, Kosovo interviews and makes a few comments for context.  She herself was a refugee who survived very difficult times.  She wanted the women’s stories to break through the walls of her office into the world and did the women. here must s be pointed out that stories are given with the consent of clients.  These stories need to be held, cradled and the women celebrated for their courage, their strength and their love.  

Teuta’s Story

Kosova201541I just want people to know what we experienced and what we still deal with!  I’m the lucky woman, because my husband knows what happened to me, accepted that, and try to be supportive at maximum, but there are thousands of woman that can’t talk about their experience, they suffer in silence. Alone. In my village there are a lot of woman who were raped and never dare to talk or seek treatment, because if they speak they can be excluded from the family, abused, made into prostitutes and remain homeless. Speaking about what happened can bring terrible things.  There is humiliation,  fear, shame, guilt and anger!

I would like people to not judge us, not stigmatize us, to see as like a normal women.

We didn’t choose to be raped or tortured, they choose us. With what we could protect our self?

It was very easy to be man in the war time, because they took the weapons and fight in mountain, or some just hiding in mountains, but we were unprotected, without weapons, we fought for our children and ourselves with our bodies.


In the summer of 1998, my life changed forever. As was usual for our summer vacation, my husband, myself and our two children came from Germany where we have lived for several years to our home of origin in Kosovo. I was pregnant with our third child.  We planned to stay a month with our families as we normally did and then return to Germany where my husband worked in construction and I was caretaker for his boss’s two children. We had a nice life.

A few years earlier, my husband had finished the army in Croatia so he was an experienced military man.  The war between the Serbian and Albanian Kosovars had begun in earnest in January 1998.  Our army people came to our house and asked my husband to join KLA — Kosovo Liberation Army. It was a request he  couldn’t refuse — these were our people — so my husband joined. I didn’t go back to Germany but remained in our birthplace with my mother-in-law in her home while my husband went into the mountains with KLA.

War had been going on for six months and everywhere was heard shots.

People stayed at home all the time, only in the cases when we absolutely needed something from town or to visit doctor did we go out. I was scared, mostly because i was pregnant and the children were so young, 4 and 2 years old.  I heard that other people in some villages were already left their homes to go the mountains where they felt safer – they were afraid to walk on the roads because the enemy soldiers would harm them, rape or kill them.  I was sure that very soon we would have to do this as well.

Days went by, months went by and my husband could not come home because he could be captured by the enemy forces and killed automatically. Time for birth was approaching. I couldn’t decide if I should go to the hospital or give birth at home.

In hospital were working just Serbian doctors and nurses, I heard cases that  they kill Albanian babies and tortured the mothers, so I decided to give birth at home with the help of my mother in law.

In January 1999, she arrived; I gave birth to my third child.  Only three weeks after bringing into life my daughter, the enemy came to our house and we were forced to leave.

The village was surrounded by military and paramilitary forces and we escaped to the mountains. We all knew that when the enemy came into the village or neighborhood they burned houses, maltreated/abused or raped women and killed men and sometimes boys.

Together with my mother in law and other fellow villagers, we spent many days there in cold weather and without any food. We were unprepared to leave the houses.  We took what we could: some bags with food, mostly bread but that was not enough for staying long. We created plastic pavilions (tents)  to  sleep but it was snowing and extremely cold. Everywhere you could hear children crying. The children were sleeping in their clothes and boots and the babies got severe rashes.

Besire: During the time when the civilian population stayed in the mountains, they used fire, and diapers often washed with water only, we had no soap or sometimes the ashes of the fire that was more efficient for fading.  The enemy saw the fires and knew where we were. 

The small baby I kept all the time at the breast in order to keep her warm and trying to feed.  But I didn’t have milk enough because I didn’t eat, saving bread, our primary food by now, for children. My mother in law was taking care for other two children most of the time.

But enemy forces didn’t even allow us to stay in the mountains they gathered hundreds of people who they had forced to leave their houses and in big crowds we were forced to move from one village to another.  

Men were sent in an unknown direction, while all women were gathered in the school yard of the village and times to times the Serbian army chose some of the most beautiful women, sent them inside the school or behind the school where they would sexually abuse them. In this collection I was chosen together with 7 other women and sent by 3 paramilitary behind the school and they forced us to take our clothes away.

My one month baby was crying all the time as my mother-in-law held her on the other side of the building and this was bothering one of the paramilitaries, so he took my  mother in law who was holding the baby and brought  her behind the school where we were naked.

I remember when He asked: “Whose is this child?”  All the seven women who were naked said that: “It’s mine, it’s mine.”

Teuta started crying when she reached this part of her story and remembers this moment. She cannot stop crying and she understands very well the reaction of each woman, because all of them wanted to escape from the clutches of those “savages” as she calls them. 

After calming herself she continues her story. 

But then my mother in law shows who the real mother of the baby is and I survived from the rape this time. While leaving the group I always am sorry when I remember that had to put on clothes of another woman due to the fact that I was in a hurry to escape and i couldn’t find mine.  But our suffering did not end because after some hours, after they raped a lot of young women they forced us to go on the road with the long line of people walking or some with truck and moving from one village to another.  I was extremely tired , because I didn’t eat nothing for days .I keep all the time the baby in my arms but she was not  was  not moving anymore   because I couldn’t breastfeed her, I thought she was dead –died of starvation.  I thought that the baby was dead, and for a moment I was thinking, maybe is better because she will not suffer any more!

I was numb, i even couldn’t cry.  I decided to leave the baby near the road while we were walking, but a young Serbian solder nearby felt compassion for me, it seemed. He  tried to say something in his language but i could not understand, then he start doing like a dog, which i understood that  he was saying  to take the baby and  bury somewhere  because the dogs might eat her, so I started crying and  took  baby Flaka up again my arms. I kissed her like I wanted to apologize to her why I wanted to leave her there — I was so sure that she was delufta-e-kosovesad.

Besire: From the stories of Teuta, I understood in general, the Serbian regular army, rarely mistreated civilians, they were fighting with KLA.  It was the paramilitary groups that did all the terrorizing and murdering.   

Affected by this, I continued on the road with the long line of people, and only a few minutes later a shell from a tank exploded in the middle of the line of trucks and people, causing many deaths and injuries.  Immediately after, the paramilitary forces were killing the injured people.  They did it coldly with no apparent feeling; meanwhile the others were forced to continue the trip moving around dead or dying people.

The shell noise was so great that my ears were closed and couldn’t hear anything, but I felt very warm and very strange.

There was blood.  I didn’t know I was hit at first…shrapnel struck me in the left breast and also hit the baby. Flaka started to move from the pain and in that moment I understood she had been hit in the nose and that she was still alive.

Seeing that enemy forces were killing all the wounded people I approached my mother in law and told her what was happening to me. When she saw me and baby, she was terrified.  I could see it and  she told  me, ssh,  be quiet, bear the pain   and not  scream  because she was fearful that they will kill me as they killed also many other wounded persons.  Mother-in-law helped to stop the blood with her handkerchief, and we continue the path in the long line of people, but over the days, my wound started being infected causing fever. Also, I tried to clean baby wound but she was not moving again. She was half dead!

After one day of 12 hours of hiking, we were sent to a cooperative, a building for agricultural issues, where the paramilitary forces selected me and other 120 beautiful women, took us inside the cooperative where we were systematically violated. I was with temperature and fever, because of the wound but this didn’t stop them raping me.  While my mother-in-law with many others and their children remained outside of the building and she somehow manages to send a message to my father which was enrolled in KLA and happened to be in hiding nearby.

We women were inside the cooperative but the paramilitary didn’t stay all the time inside, they mostly came around 19.00 o’clock.

My father analyzed very well the situation and after many attempts he manages to sneak through the roof and we escaped with the help of the women who remained behind.

During the day the paramilitary stayed in front of the building, drinking coke and singing so I analyzed good the situation and escaped from behind the building and he took me from the cooperative and took me to the closest headquarters, to take medical treatment for the wound.  I told him I had to go back. He begged me not to go to the cooperative again, but I had to because we were numbered/counted every night and if one of us was missing, the enemy said that they would kill 10 women for every one escaped.

So I had to turn back, because they were like my sisters, and I could not bear the feeling of guilt of any of them would be murdered because of me –  all of them helped me to  escape when my father come for me.

As soon as I was back inside the building,  the paramilitary forces came to  violate, and rape, one if the Serbian paramilitary noticed bandage on my bosom and understood  that I had escaped for treatment  was treated, and he brutally beats me and breaks my ankle bone with his boots.

It is still not right, all these years later she cannot walk for long periods of time. 

It was not just violating us, it was that at night after all day being raped, we try to rest, they come in and urinate on us.  Taking careful time.

After several consecutive days of sexual violence in this building, some of the women were released while several others were taken by the Serb forces and later on after the war they were found dead in different wells around the area. That’s what they did.  Poison the wells with our own bodies.

Teuta was among the freed women.   She returned to her children and mother in law and then was joined by her husband later on, who explained the entire situation to him.  Her husband was one of the very supportive ones, there were fewer of those kinds of men and he still continues to support her maximally. He kept her from suicide several times.  She, after all these difficulties,  experienced many health problems including depression  and other symptoms of PTSD, migraine and other physical problems including hypertension for which she ( and the other women) have no money for medicine.  She is still undergoing prolonged exposure  psychotherapy. 


Besire: How were the holidays for you before the war and now?  

Oh there is a huge difference. The best holiday for me was Bajram holiday. I remember the time when i was unmarried, we couldn’t wait for Bajram, and we were preparing for weeks. I lived in a big village and with a lot of cousins and sisters. We were 7 sisters and all of us had flair for singing with tambourine. So before and during holiday we went house by house to all villages, singing and dancing, especially we went to the houses when were new brides. The new brides wore the best clothes they had and we sing tothem. Now everything is different, everything is so empty.

Today we celebrate just one day of Bajram, and you don’t see joy in peoples face , neither to children, they are not happy anymore. We just say to each other “happy Holiday and that’s it, we don’t sing and dance any more like used to do, even when we smile to each other it seems to me is a fake smile. After the war things changed, it seems that the war ended but took our joy and happiness! Every holiday reminds us of who is not there and how many we don’t know what happened to them.

Besire: What is the best thing that can happen for you?

The worst thing for me now, is to see my daughter with the nose deformed from the grenade.  She is already fifteen, an excellent student and it happens  many times, she comes home  from school crying, because other children call her ” tomato nose” I pray good one day she will have the opportunity to operate her nose and to feel like other children.  That is the best that can happen to me!

Odette: No home, no shoes

person2I did not know that I was a refugee until one day in school in Uganda. I must have been six or seven years old. We were playing a skipping rope game with teams. I was very good at it jumping up and down in my little bare feet – I did not get shoes until I was much older. My team was winning. One of the other team’s children didn’t like that.  “Go back to Rwanda, you are just a refugee!” What?  I thought I was  Ugandan because I was born there.

I went home crying and my parents told me we were from Rwanda and it was very dangerous living there – so we left. We lost much of our family who stayed. Later, my family of 12 children and parents were displaced again in the Ugandan civil war.

Life as a refugee was very difficult. A lot of people had to change their names in order to be accepted in schools as citizen/nationals. In the University, certain courses, especially professional courses were out of reach for the children of refugees. In some countries like Burundi the children of refugees were required to get more than eighty per cent of the marks in national exams in order to be admitted in the University. There were all sorts of non tariff barriers along the way in the development of a refugee in a foreign country. But above all refugees lacked resources to better their lives.

I am number 5 in the family of 12 children, 6 boys and 6 girls. I am the 2nd girl in the family.

My father was doing menial jobs at the local bank as a Post Man. Life was very difficult but my mother was very strong on her children and she brought us up in a highly disciplined manner. My father was educated in Rwanda up to 7 years. When they were in Rwanda he was working as accountant clerk and this was a dignified job at that time, but now we were in a foreign country, which was Anglophone while our country of origin was Francophone.

When I went to school other children used to tease me a lot and calling us names. They looked down upon us because we were poor and some of these children used to see our parents coming to provide manual work in exchange of money or food. They considered us as there inferiors and this used to hurt me so much.

School struggle

bg2I joined primary school when I was 6 years of age and my father found it very difficult to send us to school. His income was simply too little to manage to send all of us to school. Faced with that dilemma he decided to send the boys to school and I was advised to stay at home. I cried every day and my parents were really heart broken. There was a parish priest Fr. Leo at a parish in town managed by the Holy Sacrament priests. Fr. Leo was an American and a neighbor of ours told my parents in my hearing that Fr. Leo of Kimanya Parish was assisting needy children to go to school.

Next morning I went to the parish to see Fr. Leo. I was crying when I told him that I wanted to go to school by my parents were too poor to support my education. I was so scared of the white man, I had not seen one before and did not understand what he told me in American English. I simply imagined that he had told me that he could not sponsor my education.  So that was that, I was not going to be able to go to school.

Three days after, I was accompanying my pregnant mother to the hospital, on my back I was carrying my little brother who was sick when I met the headmaster of our local primary school. He told me that Fr. Leo had instructed him to admit me, that I should go and get school requirements and immediately come to start school. I joined Primary 3 and he paid for my school fees till I finished primary and Secondary school. This was a key to my life’s success story – I am so grateful!

I got married to my husband who was working in Kenya where I got a teaching job. In 1983 my husband got a job in Juba Sudan where I accompanied him. Life became much better but I always felt the need to have a homeland. I was still a refugee.

In 1986 my husband got a job in an NGO African Medical and Research foundation (AMREF) and we moved to Uganda where my parents still lived. We joined the struggle to go back to Rwanda.

In 1994 after 4 years of armed struggle, genocide occurred in Rwanda in which many members of my family who were involved in the armed struggle died. I lost 2  brothers many cousins and 2 brothers in law and many relatives and friends.

My husband was appointed Ambassador of Rwanda to Japan but when we went back in Rwanda we found many of our relatives were massacred in genocide. It was traumatic. My parents went back home to find their loved ones killed in the most macabre manner you could imagine. But life continued and the new government of national unity did a lot to reconcile the wounded population.

Flora: Tanks in the Front Yard

TankqFlora, a 50 year old woman, and mother of six children, is from rural Drenica Valley in Kosovo, the valley that was the hardest hit and most destroyed by war. When the war started in Drenica in February 1998,  Flora’s civilian husband, Faton, was attacked in their home by the Serbian police several times and nearly beaten to death in front of Flora and the children. When the beating was over, Faton knew he would never be safe in this world, so he left for the mountains with their 20 year old son. To justify the beating, the police used the pretext that they heard that Faton had weapons, even though they never found any. In general, the police justified abuse calling the people from Drenica terrorists — the men were always in danger as the police could enter homes whenever they wanted. They abused, harassed and threatened people, often killing them. After a while it became clear, they wanted to exterminate all the men, including boys.  So they were gone and who remained were children, women and old people.

So Flora stayed behind with the rest of the children. She continued her life making as many as seventeen loaves of bread a day for her family and for others hiding in the mountains. During some nights, the men came home for food or other necessities and to see their wives and children.

Flora’s story

The 18 of September 1998 is a date that I will not forget till I die. The men from the village along with my husband and eldest son hid from the Yugoslav/Serbian forces that had been fighting Kosovo Albanians since February. As usual, I was baking loaves in the kitchen when I heard a loud noise and our very old house began to tremble. I ran outside to see what was happening and was completely shocked to see Serbian tanks rumbling through the street.

We lived at the edge of the village so when the tanks stopped before entering town, they stopped near our house.. I looked down the road and saw families, many mothers and children, leaving and moving quickly toward the mountains carrying what they could but I couldn’t go with them –I was completely unprepared, the loaves were in the fire, and I had no other food prepared so even if I wanted, I couldn’t go, my children would go hungry in the mountains.

There was no question, I decided to stay. When the rumbling tanks arrived, my children surrounded me terrified. I reassured them as I thought the soldiers wouldn’t harm defenseless women and her children. But when I saw the tank full of soldiers directly pull in the front of the house, I realized my mistake.

Five armed men jumped out of the tank and came in the house, one after another in clunking boots with no care for our home. And I remember they put black masks over their faces immediately. I motioned to my youngest daughters to come stand close to me. We gathered together, all of us, me and my children as they ordered us in their Serbian language to go into the basement of the house. My youngest daughter was 13 years old, another was 15, and my older daughter was 18.   

My daughters and I were herded downstairs. The soldiers left my son upstairs while my three daughters and me were held captive in the basement.  The masked soldiers told us to take off our clothes and when we refused, they began beating us brutally.  They tore off our clothes and then each of them raped us rotating with the four of us one after another.tank2

I have heard that some woman during the rape lose consciousness but I was totally aware of what was happening, though at some point, stopped thinking. I heard the screaming of my daughters begging them to kill us. I couldn’t believe that what was happening was real. It cannot be described in words how I felt as a mother hearing my children screaming for my help and being able to do nothing, absolutely nothing. “For the sake of GOD, please kill us.”  I begged the rapists but they were laughing — ‘we don’t want you dead.’

I wasn’t afraid of dying; I could see Tringa, my 13 year old daughter crying and looking at me for help. My daughter Lule had a shoulder injury of some kind.  I told my daughters to stay silent, to be quiet. I didn’t know how to make their fear go away. I still remember that feeling.  They kept us in the basement for around two hours but for me it was a hundred years of terror, and helplessness.  We were all shaking and naked.

They left in the early evening, just like that, to check the other houses, I guess.  We went upstairs still naked and found my son terrified and cringing in the corner of the room. I got clothes for my daughters and tried to calm them, helped Lule with her arm, and we stayed all together close, trembling and shaking and waited to see what would happen next.

At nightfall (we were still quivering – I had taken bread from the oven, some burned), an old uncle came to the house.

When I told him what had happened, he ordered all of us to “bury” the experience, saying the rapes were “a bigger tragedy than being murdered.”

That night we took an oath, my daughter and me that we never will talk about what we experienced.

My husband is very patriarchal man, and I knew that if he understand that we were raped he would prefer killing us with his own hand than fe el that much shame. Some women were killed by their husbands.

Flora was breathless as she told the story.  She asked for water. 

My youngest who was 13 years old at the time of the rapes has been psychologically traumatized ever since. Another one of my daughters Lulja, also traumatized, had her left shoulder dislocated.

Afraid of bringing shame and isolation on my family I remained silent for all this years, even I   watched the heavy toll silence has taken on my family.   Two of my  daughters left the country after the war.  They live in Finland and for years they have been in psychotherapy because of their suffering from PTSD, anxiety and depression . Tringa, the youngest one got married, only to be rejected by her husband when he found out about the rape.  I begged her husband not to tell my husband why he was divorcing Tringa because he would kill us. 

Tringa lives with us and she is very depressed.  She never wants to go out. 

After the war I had another daughter, she was born with Down syndrome.

For myself, I never told my husband about the rapes. Instead, I told him that my daughters and me were beaten as a way of explaining the anxiety and depression they’ve suffered ever since. Me as well. My husband says rape would dishonor the family; during the war, he threatened to kill me more than once if I were ever “touched” by a Serb.

How can you talk to such a person about this?” asks Flora, who confessed she told her husband she was traveling to Pristina for a doctor’s appointment about her daughter with Down syndrome rather than meeting a psychologist.

I would really prefer it if they had killed me, instead of letting me survive. 

We women who were raped and tortured don’t feel any pleasure in life. When your husband doesn’t know what happened to you, then you aren’t able to express yourself to him about anything, and you never feel good. Even if we were talking in the most beautiful moments, I hold back and then, I’m in the worst position. And that’s the very worst thing that’s happened.”

Beside the rape experience, me and my family spent the rest of the war as displaced, forced from village to village by the ethnic-cleansing campaign and under threat from the NATO bombing campaign aimed at driving enemy forces out of the Albanian-majority territory.

But  after  the terror my daughter and me experienced, my ordinary fears melted away, and I often found myself  reaching out to help fellow displaced women.

I had lived through a real trauma, and I didn’t want other women to experience the same thing. I couldn’t even scream anymore. I felt no fear.

During the war we were closed in one village mosque. The mosque was surrounded by the enemy that threatened to kill us all.  We were all woman and children.  All terrified but I acted like a leader there. I told them not to fear death.  They were all in panic and needed encouragement. I gathered all children and telling the story how one day the war will stop and we will celebrate all together in Freedom. They needed to hear these words. I just took the attitude that we had to move ahead and not look back.

After two days closed in that mosque, the enemy let us go. They put us in buses and took us to the Macedonia border. My daughters, my son and I stayed in a camp for a month knowing nothing about my husband and my older son, because we left them in them in the mountains. We were worried about them. But, I was also scared to see him because of what had happened to us.

After the war was finished we immediately came back to Kosovo where we found my son and husband both at home. The house had been ravaged, everything taken or smashed but not burned.

Before the war, we had a horse and two cows but they were killed. They were how we made a living. With my children just having an elementary school education while, me and my husband had just three year education.  So, it was very difficult for us to live, but one humanitarian organization helped us with 10 goats and for these years since the war years we bred and raised the number of goats, so today they are our source of living, for my 10 member’s family. Today we live in very difficult economic conditions but nothing is more difficult than having to remain SILENT.

I have hidden our secret for 15 years, and I know that thousands of my sisters do the same. I know woman who live in a misery and they need support either financially, emotionally or morally.  I hope in sharing my story, people will know what we experienced and instead of judging us, will support us and help persuade other Kosovars to finally acknowledge this painful chapter from the past.

Before the war, the best Holiday for us was Bajram Holiday. Before the war we enjoyed the Holiday. One week before we women prepared everything together with great fun and then during the holiday, shared our food and joy with all our relatives and our neighbors. We celebrated three days. The first day, we wore our best clothes – the adults and the children and lunched together with our close family then in the afternoons we went out in our neighborhood to eat and decide who made the best cakes.  On the other days we went to relatives or waited for relatives to come to our home but now I don’t feel pleasure about much of anything.

It bothers me when Bajram Holiday comes because instead of bringing the biggest joy, I always feel tormented because my soul has been killed. And I think most of us who experienced war feel like that and I know many years will pass, generations even before our people start to enjoy the holidays as we enjoyed them before.

Neither my nieces or nephews, my children or grandchildren will enjoy them but maybe their nieces or nephews yes, their grandchildren will be pure enough that they will not have experienced what we have and don’t really know what war means.

I would do anything to see men talking openly to wives who have been victimized by the enemy, Woman first of all should be supported   by their husband. Suffering in silence is killing me day by day.   If I don’t get anything out of telling my story, maybe someone else will. I may have lost a battle, but I don’t want others to experience the same.

We need support, support from the state and support from society. When that happens, that’s when we’ll be at peace.

Grace’s story: Sleeping in Trees

NaivashaNaivasha is a very old town in the Great Rift Valley, which was started during the construction of the railway line in 1800’s. The railway line passed through there on its way to Uganda, near lake Victoria which is the source of river Nile, which serves water in Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt countries in Africa.  This is a town which is famous for wildlife and some of white settler like Lord Dalemere lived here and his grandson has a farm in the area. It houses one of the big prisons in Kenya. It is a warm town near the lake and many whites have bought farms to grow flowers. It is a tourist attraction site since it is so beautiful because of the wild animals walking freely even near the roads. Here we feed many moneys with sweets and fruits from the buses as we go to western parts of the country. Monkeys stop the buses like policemen and we throw food through the bus windows. Zebras and giraffes also cross the roads and the bus wait to move. Many rich people have built cottages and hotels in this area. Wealthy expatriates have also build children homes, homes for the aged, and rescued prostitutes are just about to get a home and skills after the completion of their home.

Naivasha town was badly hit by the war in 2008. Very many people died andmany displaced. Many women lost their lives and children burnt as they lost way when their parent died and ran away. This town is coming up again slowly, but many people ended in prison as many were regarded as inciters during the post violence clashes. Many women were jailed due to child negligence. They had no jobs and they decided to run away leaving their children behind. This led them to being sorted by the government and got jailed for many years as their children got adopted by their poor families.

The election took place in December 2007 during Christmas time, and I had just been issued a letter to stop working, since that Bank I worked for was not making profits and had to reduce staff. I got very stressed being a first born, the only employed person in the family of ten who was the bread winner. My child had just completed primary school and was due to join form high school, the following year. I had no words to tell him that he may not be able to continue with schooling since I had lost my job. I had no words to tell my mother and family that I will not be able to support them and buy their medicines. I could not afford insurance either. In Africa the first born child must take care of the family when parents die. My father had died and in our culture, I was to take over all the responsibilities. I left my province and went to live in the rift valley province with my aunt to settle my mind, think my way forward after the job cut and  the same time help them in the farms.

Reaching the Rift valley province I was unlucky. Leaflets were dropped all over, requesting my tribe to leave the area since the land belong to Kalenjin tribe. I thought it was just politics, and would settle, because we are used to being beaten in elections every five years and displacements must take place during this time. It is normal to be beaten in this area.

I thought I will just ran away and stay in a Catholic church awaiting the end of trimiddle_2bal crashes which will soon
subside and then leave for home in Central province where my mother and other siblings stay. My Aunt thought I should in the forest at night and come home during the day as this is what the trend was for many years during elections.  This was not the case this time. When I slept in the forest, I slept in trees like the other people who were running from the killers. We slept in trees because the animals were as dangerous as the criminals)

In around evening when the sun was going down, The African Horns were blown. This is how we communicate. It was a sign something bad was going to happen and already people are in danger. Soon fires were lit and smoke filled the area, in Africa the horns communicates danger and people were screaming but not the 5 screams for the birth of a baby boy or 4 screams for a baby girl being born but continuous screams that an enemy has already arrived was attacking our people. It was war.

I rushed inside into my Aunts’ African thatched hut and opened our Radios in our vernacular. I tried to open other languages but could not understand what they were announcing. I heard we were in danger and should move to police stations and nearby churches and possibly Catholic Church which is not a tribal church. In an hour’s time Rift valley was dark. No power connections. It was very quiet.

The small shops were closed and looted. I had no air time on my phone and could not call my mother in central Kenya. People were being killed all over with poisoned arrows. If a poisoned arrow touches a human being they would just fall and die instantly. My Aunt and I with many others moved to the Catholic church and police stations. The place was overcrowded within minutes. We stayed in the police station till morning without water and food. Neither the Red Cross nor the UN planes had reached us yet. The Kenya army had taken sides. We even feared to tell them who we were which one was our tribe in fear of being killed. I could not go to the forest. Many criminals and hostile tribes were there during the day and killing people at night.

During the day I could accompany my aunt and everyone to look for the missing people. We could identify those fallen dead with arrows on their bodies. Many women were raped and left for dead.  There were very many. With the help of the police we could bring them to the station for checkup.

Pregnant women were cut open  and laying dead with babies dead in the stomachs. The Hostile tribes found us the fourth day.  I had gone home and they almost killed me and my aunt,  threatening to burn our hut. We pleaded with them.  One man said he knows my cousin who lives in America and as a pastor in the area he assisted his relative to study here in Kenya. He managed to intervene and we narrowly escaped death. My aunt and I went back to the church until the government gave a directive that we were to be escorted by the army and taken to other provinces where there was no war.

I was among the people to be put in the Eldoret Bus Services which was contracted by the government to move us from the Rift valley with the help of army escort. I left my Aunt and thought of taking risk to be in the first group since I thought my mother and my son are spending sleepless nights. They would be very worried about me. I left the town with a bottle of water given by the government through the church. I was hungry due to scramble for food which I did not manage to get. I had no shoes and with dirty clothes I left for Nairobi with only my national Identity Card. On the road I could see criminals waiting for the buses, but once they saw the army they ran back to the forest. We could fight fires on the highway to stop the bus moving but the escort could come out and tribes ran away.

With only 150 Km to Nairobi, at Naivasha, near the lake Naivasha in the Great Rift Valley, my bus was stopped by heavily armed people .They had guns, arrows and machetes (African swords). They were in Kenya Army Uniforms. I knew I would die then. They shot at the escort and overpowered them and their vehicle and a tire was popped.  We were all taken from the bus and lined up. We were told to remove our Identity card and put it on our mouths.

God was on my side. The tribal criminals were from my tribe and taking revenge because of the tribe’s men being killed in the rift Valley. All the Kikuyu tribe went back to the bus holding their cards. All the Kikuyu young people were put in a lorry to become fighters in the town. They were given arrows immediately. Those with no cards were greeted in the Kikuyu language. Many who did not respond were known to be other tribes. They were told to be left. The driver was instructed to move. The bus left going very quickly but before we could reach few meters we could see and hear gun shots as these people were all killed.

Naivasha town was mostly hit in 2007 post violence crashes. We continued without Army escort. Many people were dumped in Limuru, near St. Paul’s university at a place called KIRATHIMO(blessing). Here the Red Cross was waiting for the hungry and injured, giving tents and blankets to women and children as they arrived.

My bus reached Nairobi and found the Red Cross still waiting for us. I got water and painkillers. I borrowed a phone and called my mother. I was given fare and left for my room where I live. Reaching home I fell sick due to cold and stress. We were never counseled about our trauma even after the war. Churches had already started collecting clothes to take near St. Paul’s and I managed to get some clothes during the church service. Back in the Rift valley my aunt stayed in church and the Red Cross and UN were able to help them.

During this war all the families lived together. Men, women, children and everybody else regardless their age group. Many women were raped. Many girls left school and become mothers at a very tender age. Children suffered colds and diseases due to dirty water. Many people later tested H.I.V. and A.I.Ds positive since they mixed with other tribes and without protection they became sick. Very many unwanted pregnancies were reported. Men ran away and left children and women. They got an opportunity to leave their responsibilities and went to stay in other provinces with other women. This also spread H.I.V to other provinces.

During this time maize which was the subsistence crop was burnt down. Animals killed and stolen. People were being fed by the UN with maize, flour and cooking oil. They brought mosquito nets and blankets for children.

As negotiations were taking place in Nairobi, women and children were suffering in camps. My own child who was to join high school was late because i could not get results on time. I also feared to go to Naivasha where he studied to collect results later due to what I went through. Many investors run away. I could not get a job any more. The economy corrupted. My child went to school later through the help of a friend. In one year and nine month I met Prof. Esther where women were giving their stories. She asked me to put the child in boarding school and go back to university. I graduated last year October with a Bachelor of Divinity and have just completed a post graduate diploma in Church law and marriage cases in catholic university.

God has been with me, and this is where am.

We like to note for our readers the amazing resiliency so many of our interviewees have.  Grace has applied for a doctoral program in Anthropology.  She struggles with poverty as most single women  do and lives in a tin house.   We were Skyping and there was a terrible noise like war, like thunder, like a million cymbals and I couldn’t hear a word of what Grace was saying. There was a pause and she told me she lives in a tin house (sheet metal to us in the US)  and this is what happens with wind and storms. She has occasional electricity but often studies by candle light.

Right now she is trying to find the money to buy reading glasses and still she perseveres.  And oh, she walks everywhere and when she can hires a motorbike rider to take her places.  She walks 35 kilometers to visit her mother.  She says this is what makes Kenyans such good athletes — they walk and run everywhere.





“Many criminals and hostile tribes were there during the day and killing people at night. During the day I could accompany my aunt to look for the missing people. We could identify those fallen dead with arrows on their bodies. Many women raped and left for dead were very many.”





sons-story1  “If this was a Grimm’s fairy tale, they would call Son “The Little Pig Girl”. Every day, after school, she climbs the muddy hills around her village to collect neighbors’ food slops. She fills, and empties this bucket in to her  family’s pig pen over fifty times before the swift tropical nightfall calls her home. Then she goes in to help her mother.”