The Washington Post
March 10, 1993
SARAJEVO – It was midday, and Munira was at the doorstep of Kosevo Hospital’s diagnostic building. She was an architect, and her job was to assess shell damage at the medical complex and supervise repair work.
Midday is the time when the hospital is busiest. Doctors and nurses are on their noon break, going from one mortar-gouged building to another. It is also visiting time, when family members come to the hospital to see an injured mother, father, brother or friend.
It also is the deadliest time. The Serbs often shell the hospital around noon.
At 12:30 on March 2, a tank shell fired by Serbs came smashing into the hospital complex and landed a few feet from the diagnostic building.
One man and seven women — grandmothers, mothers, a couple of girls — were injured. One person was killed. That was Munira, who knew better than most that at Kosevo Hospital death can be just around the corner for the healthy, too.
“She had very serious wounds in the stomach and chest,” said Faruk Kulenovic, the emergency room doctor who tried to save her life. “She was alive, and she was even conscious of her wounds. She knew it was bad. She said, ‘You cannot help me. Help somebody else.’ “
At about this time, Munira’s husband, Tajib, was beginning to worry. He shared an office with his wife in the diagnostic building. He is also an architect, surveying the places where shells have hit the hospital.
“I was writing the final text, and I felt the detonation of the shell,” Tajib, 57, recalled, sitting in his living room two days after his wife died. He asked that his family’s last name not be used, fearing retaliation from the Serbs in the hills. “When I heard the shell detonate, I thought the worst had happened. After my wife didn’t show up, I went outside and found the place where the shell fell on the pavement. There was a pool of blood three meters away. I didn’t know it was my wife’s.”
Tajib, wearing a black tie because he had buried his wife a few hours earlier, explained the rest step by step, with an architect’s precision. He walked to the emergency room, where Kulenovic told him that Munira had been sent to the surgery building.
When Tajib arrived there, he said, “the chief surgeon came to me” and “I knew what had happened. It was in his eyes. He said there had been no chance to save her.”
Tajib paused for a moment. His daughter, sitting next to him, took a tighter hold of his arm. The friends who were visiting Tajib after the Muslim funeral stayed in an adjoining room, talking in whispers. The conversation with Tajib turned to a familiar issue in Sarajevo, which has been the target of Serb shells for 11 months.
“I am surprised at the reaction of the civilized world,” Tajib said. “They don’t have feelings of sympathy for the nice people living in Bosnia. Why haven’t they helped us for almost a year?”
The shell that killed Munira was the 177th to hit the hospital. complex since the war began last April, according to Tajib’s count. Patients recovering from shell injuries have been known to suffer additional wounds while lying in bed.
Over the last month, Tajib drew up an architectural map of the hospital compound, with black circles denoting direct hits on a building, and black triangles signaling shells that landed near a building. There are 96 circles and 81 triangles.
“It happens every day, all the time,” said Kulenovic, the emergency room physician. “The Serbs want to make us panic, make us feel that there is no hope. That’s why they shell civilian objects.”
The Serbs have two explanations: that the Muslim-led Bosnian Army is shelling its own citizens, and blaming it on the Serbs, or that the Bosnians are firing mortars from the hospital grounds, thereby turning it into a legitimate target of retaliation.
Selmedina Falagic, 18, who was injured in the attack that killed Munira, dismissed both. Falagic and a relative went to the hospital with coffee and cakes for an injured cousin, and both of them ended up injured. Falagic’s left arm was nearly severed.
She was a few feet away from Munira when the shell hit. She recalled an admonition earlier that day from friends. “We were warned that there is a custom of shelling at one o’clock because those are visiting hours,” Falagic said. She went anyway.
Despite the risks, most people here carry on with life. Some have jobs that they go to for a few hours. Others visit friends in the evening.
There was no warning of an impending attack when Falagic entered the hospital grounds, located within a grenade toss of Sarajevo’s main cemetery. There had been no shelling. It was quiet, until 12:30.
“I heard the sound of the detonation,” Falagic said. “There was smoke everywhere. People were lying on the ground. People were crying for help. . . . I was crying. I was worried about my arm. It was painful. I thought the doctors would amputate it.”
She was able to stumble 50 yards to the emergency room, where she collapsed. A three-hour operation saved the arm, which is now held together by metal rods in her elbow and shoulder.
Falagic shares a room with two other victims of Serb shells. The women were walking in town when they were felled by shrapnel.
Lying on one bed is Munira Milanovic, 60, a gray-haired pensioner who was walking with her husband near the presidency building a week ago when a volley of shells fell onto the street. It was crowded with people carrying buckets of water or packages of charity food. She was hit by shrapnel in her stomach and her right arm.
Her husband was killed.
“The whole day was so peaceful,” she recalled, lying on her back, an intravenous drip going into her one good arm. “We didn’t expect anything to happen, and I couldn’t stand staying at home, so we went to visit a relative of mine. And then, all of a sudden . . . . “
Milanovic, asked whether she is Muslim, Croat, or Serb, shook her head, weakly. It doesn’t matter, she said. Everyone is the same in Sarajevo. “When the Serbs fire at us, they don’t care who they are killing.”
Her husband was a Serb.
Tajib plans to finish his map of Kosevo Hospital’s shell damage. His daughter, Amara, who is 27 and an architect, will take up her mother’s work. And his son, Faruk, who is a pre-med student at the University of Texas, is to return home one day with a medical degree.
His father hopes he will become a doctor at Kosevo Hospital.