The international community estimates that some 10,000 civilians, mainly ethnic Albanians, were killed by Serbian forces last year during the 78 days of NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia. Many Kosovar Albanian women are still trying to put their lives back together without their murdered fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons. RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele spoke with the women of one family who lost six men in a massacre last March.
Krushe e Vogel, Kosovo; 8 March 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Krushe e Vogel is a village where women traditionally married young, raised large families, and rarely worked outside the home. It was also an ethnically mixed village, until a massacre last March.
Ethnic Serb residents lived largely in the lower part of the village near the main road. Their homes today are demolished, and their former residents are in exile to the north, in nearby Orahovac (Albanian: Rahovec), or else in Serbia proper.
Ethnic Albanians lived in the town's upper part, spread out on its hillsides in an assortment of old peasant houses of mud-brick. These dwellings did not survive torching by the Serbs. But newer homes of brick -- though damaged by fire -- have been repaired and are habitable.
It is in this village that Serbian forces staged one of several massacres in the first days of the NATO air strikes in late March (March 25 and 26) last year, forcing the women and children to flee to Albania and slaughtering their men. Serbian soldiers and police killed from 50 to 100 men in Mala Krusha, as it was known to the Serbs, or Krushe e Vogel, as it is known to the Albanians.
Nexhmije Hajdari lost her husband and five sons in the massacre. She says the Serbian troops pulled her youngest son, who was 14 years old, right out of her arms. A sixth son survived because he was away fighting with the Kosovo Liberation Army, or UCK. Nexhmije, who is 56, can barely talk. She is sick with grief and uncertainty. Very few of the slaughtered bodies were ever found -- just bits of clothing and charred bones.
One of Nexhmije's three daughters-in-law, Selvete Hajdari, speaks for the family as the two other daughters-in-law, Avnije and Shkurte, and their seven fatherless children look on in silence pierced by the occasional crying of a baby.
"Before we did not have to work. We had husbands. They earned the money and made things for the family. Now the situation is difficult. Someone has to think, to look out for the children. So, we're starting from scratch." Silvete, who is 36, says the family still has its tractor, but none of the women know how to run it. But she says humanitarian aid has helped ease the burden of supporting a family of 16:
"We have been receiving sufficient good help. Now they have started to bring building materials to repair the rooms in the house. The Sisters of Qiriazi [a Kosovar NGO] is running training courses for women to be seamstresses. We have just finished the theory [part] and we are starting the practical part."
Selvete says a German non-governmental organization, Kinderberg, has organized women in the village to sew sheets and curtains for a hospital in Prizren, 16 kilometers to the south. Kinderberg has also given the Hajdari women a sewing machine.
Working together with Avnije and Shkurte, the women have earned over 500 German marks in recent months from their work. A relative in Switzerland also donated money to enable them to hire a man to repair a fire-damaged room in the main house of the family compound. The adjacent old mud-brick home, where part of the extended Hajdari family lived until a year ago, remains roofless and so damaged as to be irreparable.
The physical destruction the Serbs wrought across Kosovo is rapidly disappearing. But the psychological damage caused by the estimated 10,000 civilian deaths, including the executions of most of the inhabitants of Mala Krusa, may never heal. The women of this village once lived a sheltered, though hard way of life. Today, they have been catapulted into what for them was traditionally a man's world.