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Yugoslavia: In Kosovar Village, Women Face A Future Without Men

The southern Kosovo village of Meje, like many across the war-torn province, lost most of its men in the war. Correspondent Alexandra Poolos reports that the surviving women must cope with raising children and finding work on their own.

Meje, Kosovo, 17 November 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The dirt road winding through the village of Meje in southern Kosovo is bleak. There are no people outside, and the burned-out houses appear to be deserted.

Meje is still inhabited, but its residents are almost exclusively women and children, most of whom spend their days alone at home.

During the war, this tiny village lost almost all of its men, more than 500. They were taken away by Serbian paramilitaries and their fate is still not known. Today, there are fewer than 20 males in the village, most younger than 18.

The women of Meje now face challenges they could not have imagined a year ago. They must raise their children alone, with no income and only limited assistance from humanitarian organizations.

Vera Hasanaj is a mother of five in Meje. She lost one of her sons, a 17-year-old, along with her husband, brother, and father-in-law when Serbian paramilitaries took them away six months ago.

Hasanaj says she lives in the dark, waiting for any information about where her men might be. She says it would better to know that they had died than to remain uncertain.

"The war was always difficult. We had a lot of property here. We had big houses, and as you see, everything is destroyed and burned. But I do not think at all about the houses, cars and tractors that have been stolen or burned. I am thinking about the people, our missing."

Mentor is Hasanaj's oldest surviving son. Only 15 years old, he now must fill the shoes of his father and older brother. Because his mother cannot work or leave the house, he must find a job to provide for the family.

Humanitarian organizations say they are aware of the burdens Kosovar women must bear, but say there are few resources available. One resource is a group called Medica Mondiale, which operates in nearby Gjakova. Medica Mondiale offers mostly psychological and counseling services, and focuses on helping women deal with the most severe war traumas, such as rape. Medica says it is overwhelmed and has not yet managed to reach many village women.

Fatlije Gaxha Koshi is an Albanian counselor who joined Medica to help her "Albanian sisters." She says women in Kosovo are bearing the brunt of the war's after-effects.

"Apart from the physical injuries the women suffered, they suffered in another way. They saw their husbands being separated from them and their children. [They saw] their sons being separated from them and their fathers."

Koshi says the women are struggling to rebuild their lives and that much will depend on their ability to find work. Most women depended on their husbands as providers, she says, and many do not know where to begin.

Many women, however, say they cannot move forward until they know what happened to their husbands and sons.

Ardiana Haxhibeqiri is 27 and has worked at Medica Mondiale for three months. The mother of a five-year-old daughter, Haxhibeqiri says that she has not seen her husband since Serbian paramilitaries took him in the middle of the night this spring. She worries about him constantly.

Haxhibeqiri says she started doing humanitarian work because she could not be idle.

"To release myself, to find myself. Because it's very hard for me to live without my husband, and it's better to work at something and to work here with women who have been traumatized. And to forget. This is the reason."

Haxhibeqiri says the international community has forgotten about women like her and that the aid agencies have not done enough to try to find missing husbands, fathers and sons.