When I woke up, the boy was not there

Mursel and Shehria got married in 1988. A year later they got married, and they got a son. Ironically, the firstborn child of Veliu family was named Gëzim, which means happiness in Albanian language, but he caused them so much sadness and grief.

In 1999, while the family was in a column of refugees leaving for Albania a Serb paramilitary hit him hard on the head with a rifle. The nine-year-old boy lost his consciousness.

Serbian soldiers wanted to put him in the van and take him for medical treatment. At that time, his father was in Slovenia where he worked in order to support his family. The boy’s mother had three other children with her in the column of refugees. So, the boy’s aunt went together with him to the van. After much trouble, Gëzim and his aunt finally arrived in the hospital of Prishtina.

Mursel and Shehrie Veliu

My name is Mursel and I was born on May 1st, 1964, and I am a mechanical engineer by profession. I was born in village Polac, to father Hazir and mother Shehide. I have four children, with Gëzim there were five. I don’t have a brother but I have four sisters, and they are all married.

We had average living conditions, more or less like everyone else at the time. We grew up together, in a not-so-good economic situation. I finished primary school in village Polac, high school in Skenderaj and then I attended my studies in Mitrovica. All of my sisters finished secondary school except for my eldest sister, she finished only primary school.

My father was a manual worker in a brick and block factory in Skenderaj. My mother was a housewife, she has helped us, raised us and prepared us for life. Our family relationships were very good, they took good care of us and they always helped us.

When we were younger, we would usually go to school in the morning or in the afternoon. As children, we took care of the cattle in the morning, and in the afternoon, we went to school. When I was a child, I really liked to work the land. However, when I grew up, I changed my interests and I oriented myself towards technical high school.

I went to high school in Skenderaj by bus, but very often I went there by walking. Such were the circumstances then; we would walk all the way and then we would come back together with my friends. Afterwards I enrolled in the Higher Technical School, Machinery Management in Mitrovica, in ’85 / ‘86. I finished it on time, and I immediately got a job. As a student, I lived in Mitrovica for a while, because I had to cooperate with my fellow university colleagues, so we lived there.

            In those years, as I was growing up, I started understanding more about the political situation. The situation was not good. We had many obstacles; it was difficult for us to work or attend studies. My father helped me with my education, but he couldn’t do much so we both had to work in order for me to get educated.

            I got engaged to my wife according to old traditions with a msit (wedding arranger). I got married on October 9th, 1988, one year after I graduated from university. We got married in the traditional way, as people did at that time, lots of family members with cars going to pick up the bride. At that time the wedding ceremonies were simple and good.

             Gëzim was born on September 26th 1989 in the hospital of Skenderaj. We were very happy; it was our first child. Gëzim was a very good child, he was very smart. He was in the fourth grade at that time. He was nine and a half years old when he was killed. He was an excellent student. Every time he went out of the house during the war, he carried his school bag in his arm. He was a very talented pupil.

            Two years after Gëzim, Edona was born. She was a very capable girl; she was a very good pupil as well. They had a great relationship with Gëzim. They played together and they went to school together. Two years after Edona we got Qendrim.

            Qendrim studied physical education at university but then he changed his mind and started learning about electric installations. He considered that there is no perspective with that university degree. At the employment center people with Master’s degrees were waiting for seven or eight years for a job and so he decided to leave the university even though he was a very good student. Now he works with electric installations.

            Two years after Qendrim, in 1995, Mërgim was born. Mërgim works with water installations. He has completed a course for that profession. Our youngest child is Bleona, who was born in 2000. She is very talented. She is a good student. From first grade until high school, she never had a bad grade. Now she is attending the third year at university and her average grade is 9.7. So, she has only one or two 9s.

War started early for us. The situation before the war was almost more difficult than the war with our enemy. We have experienced many serious things, people were fired from their jobs, people were getting killed here and there. So, in ’97 I was forced to leave and go to Slovenia. My wife and children experienced the war more than I did. Up until 1997 I can tell you about demonstrations and people being expelled from their jobs and also on March 5-7 of 1998, when the attacks against the Jasharis took place, I was here and I experienced it myself. However, my wife and children experienced the war and they experienced being expelled from our house.

When the Jashari family was attacked, we were in the houses and we could hear some movements, we could hear that we were being surrounded, that we were under surveillance. They mostly examined the part where the highest resistance was coming from, at Jashari’s place. They were the main focus, the Jasharaj neighborhood and Prekaz in general. We lived close to them. It was a very difficult moment; it was a state of war. Everyone knows what kind of resistance they have put up.

When the following attacks took place, I was no longer there. For economic reasons, I had to return to work in Ljubljana in order to take care of my family. Therefore, my family, parents, sisters and children have experienced the war much more than I did. They were expelled from their houses.

            When they started entering our neighborhood, my family got separated once or twice. Once my father and mother went to Drenas, and the children stayed here in Mitrovica. In the beginning, when they left the house, they went to Vushtrri and they stayed there for three weeks. Actually, they stayed in Vushtrri after Gëzim was killed.

When they were expelled, the children together with my wife and sister went to Mitrovica and they stayed at my uncle’s place. Then, they were forced to leave again and many residents from Mitrovica were kicked out in the streets and they were ordered to go to Albania. For two days and two nights they travelled with a little rest. My wife with children, my sister, and my uncle with his family were all going towards village Gremnik. They spent one night in Gremnik, and the next day they continued going towards Albania. Then suddenly a van full of Serbian paramilitaries stopped in front of them and didn’t let them continue but they ordered them to return to the crowd.

My uncle was walking in front and my wife and children were walking in the crowd of people. When they stopped at a police cordon, a police officer tried to hit my uncle with a rifle buttstick. However, my uncle moved away and the police officer hit my son who was behind my uncle. My son was hit with a rifle behind his ear, and he immediately fell down on the ground. My son lost his consciousness, he was laying there and the other people continued walking. My wife, my sister and the children stayed behind with my son.

            Those paramilitaries left and then another van came with some other Serbian paramilitaries. This is what my sister and my wife have told me. When the other van came, they said, “If you tell anybody what happened here, we will slay all of you. You have to say that you don’t know what happened here. You can’t tell anybody who hit the kid.” and then they took my son away. The biggest problem was that somebody had to go with them. My wife had three other children with her, Qëndrimi, Edona and Mërgim. So, my sister went with Gëzim.

            From there they took him to Klina e Begut to see a doctor. The boy was unconscious almost all the time. My sister told me that she was left in the corridor with a soldier or two, and the child was sent inside the room. Then they took an ambulance and took them to Peja. The driver of the ambulance was a Serbian civilian. They kept him in Peja for an hour and then they said they wanted to take him to Prishtina. When they came to Prishtina, my sister didn’t even know which department they took them to. “He was unconscious all the time”, she told me.  

My son lived only three more days. There were very few patients at the hospital, but the same case happened to another child who was of a similar age. There was a woman with that child. They stayed together with them. “On the third day,” said my sister, “it seemed to me that Gezim was opening his eyes.” There were not many doctor visits. They didn’t check him much. They just stayed there.

            My sister says, “He was opening his eyes, I think he was getting better. I was happy. Sometime at around half past nine in the evening I fell asleep. I don’t know how much I slept, maybe about twenty minutes or half an hour. But when I woke up, the boy was not there.” she said. “I went out screaming, ‘Where is he?’ They were saying, ‘We don’t know’. The corridors were full of soldiers. Some were saying ‘He is dead’. ‘How come? He was fine, he was opening his eyes.” My sister told me, “He died and I didn’t see him dying. Before I fell asleep, he would open up his eyes” she said. “I don’t know where they’ve taken him” she says.

            Also, the other child which was in the hospital died. My sister was forced to put on hospital pajamas, because it was dangerous. She had to dress up as a patient in the hospital together with the other woman during those nights while she stayed in the hospital. The other woman stayed alone. It was dangerous for both of them.

            My sister then left Pristina by bus and she went to Vushtrri. There were very few people, only the army and police were moving around. “I went from Vushtrri”, she said, “by another bus, to Mitrovica. I was sitting on the bus, when the police took me off the bus.” She went to the bus station and they didn’t harass her anymore, she said. Then from the bus station she went to our uncle’s place who lived on the road to Vakanica.

             I returned from Slovenia in 2002. We didn’t know where to look for our son. There were no records in the hospital. UNMIK came in 2004 and they took our DNA; they took DNA samples from the children, my wife, me and then some people from UNMIK in Pristina called us and informed us that they found Gezim’s remains. I couldn’t go. I had no heart. So, my father went to Rahovec where they were located in a morgue. “It was like a tent,” my father told me, “There were several corpses there.” Our municipality provided a vehicle and they went there.

 I think that in the Drenica district, the third or the fourth body which was found was Gezim’s body. Many people participated in the ceremony when we buried him.

             They gave us some papers but there was no information in those papers. For four years we didn’t even know where Gezim was buried. I found out all this after four months, they didn’t tell me anything at that time. We don’t even know who were those people who killed my son. Maybe someone in that crowd of people knew them, but the case was never investigated. There was no attempt by the state or UNMIK, EULEX or KFOR to identify those persons.

            It was very difficult. I wish someone would do something about this issue. Maybe they would find out who were the people who did this. Who were the ones that killed children? Maybe someone would recognize them. But they had their faces painted. I don’t know what else to say.

“I will not leave him alone”

Shehrie Veliu

I am Shehrie Veliu, I was born in 1973 in the village Rezalla. My maiden name is Zabeli. My father worked in a factory; he was a simple worker. My mother was a housewife. We were six brothers and three sisters. I have a sister who is married and she lives in Slovenia, the second sister is in Prishtina and she works as a hairdresser. One of my brothers is in Austria, one is in Sweden, and one is in Germany, and three other brothers are here; one works in Prishtina, one in Skenderaj. I attended primary school until the fifth grade. I got married when I was 15 years old, because the times were different then.

My first child was Gëzim, and then we had Edona, Qëndrim, Mërgim and Bleona. I remember very well when the war started at Jashari’s place. We were at home eating breakfast, when someone said, “They came now also in these parts” and we decided to escape. We had no idea where we were going. Some of my children were at the place where the war started in the Jashari neighborhood. The other children were here, I myself was elsewhere with my in-laws. Then two days later we all gathered in Vushtrri.

Except for my husband who was in Slovenia and one sister-in-law the whole family gathered at that place. Gëzim came and they told him at school, “Their forces came at the factory, war will start tomorrow” and he started crying. I told him, “Come on, eat something.” He said, “No, I don’t want anything, because the war is about to start.” When my father-in-law came, he said, “We have to remove the children, we have to save them.” My younger sister-in-law and I went to my husband’s uncle in Mitrovica. My son was very upset. They told him on the bus, “They will take your mother, they will take everyone who doesn’t have an ID card”.

We left from the uncle’s house and we went to village Shipol where we stayed at my cousin’s house. But then the column of people was formed and we were forced out from there. We started walking towards Albania, and just before we reached Gjakova they told us that we have to go to Igremnik, some village there. We walked for four days and four nights. My sister-in-law and my husband’s uncles were with me. Also, my children: Gezim, Edona, Qendrim and Mergim.

While we were walking, they would come out from their vehicles and with machine guns and by waving knives they would say, “We are going to chop your heads off”. We walked until village Vojtesh which was on the half of the road. We spent the night there and then we left for Runik and Gjurakovc. It took us four days and four nights. There they took our jewelry. Then they returned us on this side but one day before leaving, I remember it clearly, paramilitary forces came and they were wearing scarves and they had their faces painted. They hit my husband’s uncle with a machine gun and also my son. My son lost his consciousness. I held my son in my hands. When the other van came, they took my son. My sisters-in-law went with them. She said, “I will not leave him alone.” I stayed with the other children.

They took them to Klina, Peja, and then to Prishtina in the hospital. We went to our house, first here and then to Mitrovica. We stayed there for a night or two, and then they forced us out from Prekaz again. My children were crying, all three of them, I didn’t know what to do with them. The grenades flew over our heads, we were thinking that it’s just a matter of time when we will be hit. We finally came to Prekaz. We stayed there for a week or more than a week.

I didn’t know anything about Gëzim until my sister-in-law arrived in Prekaz after a week. She just said that my son has died, nothing else. Now after many years she tells me bits and pieces because then I was in a very bad condition.

After a week we went to Klina, we stayed there for another week or two and then they sent us back to Skenderaj. They didn’t let us go out in Albania.

After everything ended, we started looking for the boy. In Prishtina they were telling us, “He is not here”. My father-in-law searched for him the most. My husband didn’t know anything about him for four months because we didn’t tell him. Then, in October, four or five months later they called us and they took our DNA, including the children’s. The children were afraid when they came to get our DNA. When they called me, I was in a very bad condition. We were waiting all the time for some news, and I thought to myself, “I will lose my mind.” I only prayed to God, because I couldn’t do anything else.

Then in 2004 the people from UNMIK called us. They called me. We were in Mitrovica after the war, we stayed in the house of a gypsy because we had nowhere else to go. “We found the body”, they told me. My husband couldn’t go, so my father-in-law went. They gave us some papers. The bones were in a bag. We buried him at the graveyard. We didn’t look at the bones because five years have passed. This was in 2004.

The story is extracted from the book “Hijacked Childhoods: Accounts of children’s wartime experiences’ and is published in series as part of the framework of coordinated activities of CSO’s in Kosovo, organized to mark the International Day of Enforced Disappearances – 30 August 2023. The book is published in partnership between forumZFD Kosovo program and the Missing Persons Resource Center, and is supported by funds received from the German Federal Ministry on Economic Development and Cooperation (BMZ) and the Embassy of Switzerland in Kosovo. Prishtina, 2022.