‘Worse than death’- A Kosovar woman’s story of surviving wartime rape

A collection of personal histories of survivors of wartime torture and rape, to be launched at 2 pm at the Orion conference hall, chronicles the horrors of war.

This is an anonymously-told personal history excerpted from the book “I want to be heard: Memory book with stories of women survivors of torture during the last war in Kosovo” published by forumZFD and Integra, in collaboration with KTRC. The book is an attempt to record the stories of women who survived torture and sexual violence during the Kosovo war in 1999.

*Disclaimer: This excerpt contains descriptions of sexual violence, which may be triggering to survivors and younger audiences.

At the age of six my parents divorced. My father remarried. They divorced because my mother could not bear any more children. That was the only reason. So my father remarried and then a year later he had a son. One year after that he had another son. I lived with my father and my step mother, but I grew up with the feeling that she was not my mother. I never saw my mother again. She remarried and I never saw her again, until I got married myself, we had no contact with one another at all.


I grew up a bit, and at the age of 12 [my father] had me engaged. My father did it on his own, because I knew nothing. It was not like nowadays when girls choose the loved ones themselves… no, no, no, I had never seen my husband beforehand. My father had done the military service with him. He was my father’s age. Yeah, that’s it. My husband was the same generation as my father. He had been married for 25 years with his first wife. His wife was alive, but she had had problems bearing children and that’s why he had decided to try marry a young girl. I was still a child. But he was happy to have a child like me. He said, “A child will bear you children, an old woman is hopeless.”


When I turned 15, I had my first period. And they’d say “The young bride is going to have a belly” and I’d ask “What belly? I already have a belly!” I was a child and had no idea what they meant by it. But my husband was nice to me, I must admit that. His first wife too. I confess. They were both very nice. And then I got pregnant. I had mixed feelings about it. I was happy to become a mother, but scared I might abort the fetus. I was under a lot of stress somehow. Now I have two sons. My husband said “I feel sorry about you. I should have taken you for a grown-up son of mine, but instead I took you for myself. I feel like I am with my own child but what can I do.” I said “What can I do? It was my father’s decision. I had to agree to be with you.” I really went on really well with his other wife. She cooked for me, cleaned for me and took care of me as if she were my mother and not the other wife. She was really very nice to me and we did get on really well. Then my husband died.  


My oldest son found his wife on his own. He was in school and a friend of his said he had a neighbor, and introduced them. They got married. We were relatively well off. They had a big wedding, we bought a lot of clothes for the bride.

When my mother’s husband died, I took her to live with me. She had nowhere to go. The Serbs had burned her house in Vushtrri.


Before the war I remember the Serbs came to get the weapons from my husband. They came to raid our house. We had two lawfully owned weapons. So they came to ask for the weapons. My husband wouldn’t give them. He said he possessed them legally, why give them? He didn’t hand them over.

My husband died before the war started. He had a high blood pressure. The Serbs had beaten him up in the protests. He was spitting blood and then he died.

My youngest son joined the Kosova Liberation Army. When the war started they would not let us settle in one place for more than three days. They would drag us from one place to the other.

I was with my daughter-in-law, with the neighbor women, with my sisters-in-law. There were many of us. And we were on a tractor with our brother-in-law. They took our tractor and made us walk on foot. My daughter-in-law had a suitcase, I wanted to help her with it. The minute they removed us from the tractor, they set fire to it. We would walk between soldiers on both sides. Tanks were moving behind us. Us – in the middle.

We saw all of the other women being raped. We screamed and went crazy. And the bastards, you couldn’t even tell which one was which. They all wore masks.

They took us to a village school. Once they took us there, they kicked out all of the old men and women, as well as the children, and kept us inside. They had long knives. What could have happened inside there? The worst thing possible. Sexual abuse. That’s what it was, the worst possible.

They came at about 10 o’clock in the evening. We were alone inside. We had no lights, it was an utter darkness, just like a prison. We couldn’t see a thing. And they would come in, it lasted one hour or two, and then they left. As soon as they separated us, we knew something was going to happen. They left all of the elderly and the children outside. They kept the young girls and women. I wasn’t the youngest nor the oldest. It lasted for an hour or an hour and a half.

They would fear that NATO would see their movements and bomb the school. So they came in at night, did it quickly and got out. They’d say “Let us do this quickly before they bomb us.” They banged my head really hard. They banged my head so hard, they threw me on a toilet and it still aches.

We saw all of the other women being raped. We screamed and went crazy. And the bastards, you couldn’t even tell which one was which. They all wore masks.  


We’d be in there until 9 or 10 o’clock the next morning. Then they’d let us come out of there.

We cried all night long. “What happened to us?” “What did they do to us!” We’d cry and tell each other things like that. My husband’s other wife was outside. She said to me “I heard you scream, I heard you all scream.” She knew what had happened to us and she had cried together with us.

I felt so terrible. They let us go one morning. Then we never saw them again. They let us walk away. We went to a village and stayed there for two nights. Someone suggested that we go home. As we went home, they’d observe us from the distance and shoot at us from a nearby hill. We entered a house, all together sheltered inside it. All of the houses had been burned down. It was terrible. After a while they came down and asked, “Is someone inside? Come out as we will not let anybody come here anymore. We have burned down everything.” I did not dare utter a word there. I was so scared; I never spoke a single word. We all went outside. We had baked some bread during our stay there. They were still in the oven so I went and took them out before we left. I put them inside a sack and carried them on my back. Some women said, “Don’t take that bread. They will see it and then kill us.” I said “Let them kill me, and if they do, I want to be carrying my bread.” They asked us if we had all gathered. There were men, my husband’s relatives from the villages.

Illustration by Jeta Dobranja/ Trembelat.

As we walked for awhile they stopped the men and tied their hand behind their backs. And then they killed the men. Wherever they went, they would burn the houses they’d encounter. They had some weapons and they would use them to burn the houses. I don’t know what sort of a weapon it was. It would surprise me to see that you can burn a house with a weapon. The roof tiles would fall in front of us. They killed the men. Children would see their fathers being shot and they started to scream. We did not see the ones who shot the men any more. They took us to another village. They went away, disappeared. They left us in that village and policemen in uniforms came out, saying “Line up, the doctor will check you.” Check what? There was nothing there. They just wanted to have us in that house and leave us there.

They left us in the yard until dusk. They wouldn’t let us go anywhere. In the evening they decided which ones from us should enter the house. They were selecting the young women and girls.

There were three or four rooms in that house. It was a two-story house. They would point the finger and order you to enter the house. They were policemen in uniforms, but they all wore masks so I could not recognize any of them. But I saw that there was a policeman who knew us all too well. He was from our village. When they got us in there, he goes to another one, “Get her!” But the other one did not respond. “What is it? Are you afraid of women? What can they possibly do to you? Why are you fearing them?” And then he said, excuse my language, “These Albanian women are good for sucking it.” And then I said to him “So it is you? You are the one who came to our village and collected our weapons?” And he said, “I came here just to spite your husband!” I know he was the first one to come. And then they tore my clothes, they ripped them lengthwise. I started to scream and cry; I cried and screamed. After them the paramilitaries came. Long greased hair, unwashed, dressed in black clothes. I just cannot describe what we went through. They would not leave us in one place for over three days, moving us from one place to another. That sexual violence was worse than death. I’d rather they killed us, slaughtered us to death, decapitated us, or mutilated us by cutting an arm or a leg, whatever, but not have us experience that. That was horrible.

They were shouting and screaming from the other rooms too. They took out some syringes in which they had some white liquid. They gave that to us so as to numb us down. I don’t know what it was, but they’d give that to us, and then I’d lose my senses and didn’t remember anything until I woke up the next morning. When I got up in the morning, I noticed blood coming out of my stomach. They had cut my stomach with a knife, and I was bleeding. I don’t know what they did.

That’s how this life is. Joy and sadness. Sadness and joy.


When the war ended we all knew it because we saw the NATO troops enter. When they first came we thought they were Serbian forces. They also came with tanks, trucks and flags. When we saw the flags we were so relieved. The men in the mountains were also aware of the end of war. “We’re free! Free!” The Serbs were all trying to get away. They were singing while withdrawing. The bastards were finally withdrawing. They lifted their three fingers, yelled and swore.

That’s how this life is. Joy and sadness. Sadness and joy. For example, my younger son had seen them ordering us to enter that house and said to me, “Why did you accept to enter there? Why did you enter?” He was a KLA fighter. The KLA soldiers saw us from the hills. They were following us from the distance. And he says “Why did you accept to enter that house?” I say “I was expecting them to kill me or slaughter me entirely. I thought they would cut some limbs so as to leave me disabled my whole life. They didn’t, they only wanted to please themselves, and do the improper things to us. They raped us, abused us.”

I was having such a hard time with him. Such a hard time. With the younger son. He was not supportive of me at all. The other one, as he had his own wife, he would understand. His wife was also raped. He could do nothing about it. He was with the soldiers. He did not dare do anything. They were left in the mountain. They were saying, “We could have killed them!” “Yeah, right you could have. You could not, because they were so heavily armed and what weapons did you have? A gun in your hands.” They luckily ran to the mountains and were sheltered there.


I was in a hospital with a woman from Gjakova. Her daughter was an MP. And the girl came to visit her mother and her mother told her I am from Drenica. The girl asked me how did we manage to cope during the war.

I was very disturbed afterwards. I tried to hang myself. I tried to kill myself. My brother-in-law found me as I tried to hang myself. A friend of mine killed herself by drowning in the well.

Tears started to pour out of my eyes. She asked me not to cry. “I know everything,” she said. “Did you report it anywhere?” “Report what?” Then she explained to me and said that she could go and do it for me. Then I said, “I will tell you like you were my sister about what has happened. But I never dared to report anywhere.” She gave me the address of the organization. If it weren’t for this organization [KTRC], maybe I would not be here today.

I was very disturbed afterwards. I tried to hang myself. I tried to kill myself. My brother-in-law found me as I tried to hang myself. A friend of mine killed herself by drowning in the well. We had both suffered the same tortures. She decided to end it by throwing herself inside a well. We just could not live with ourselves and wanted to end our lives. We simply didn’t want to live any more. But my brother-in-law found me. When he did I was holding the rope and had climbed an old chair. I wanted to put it over a branch and then push the chair with my leg and end it. But I had been destined to live. I would rather be dead than have to live like this.

After the war we had more problems than joy. My youngest son would not support me. I still have problems with him. He just won’t support me. He is married and has his own family.

The older son knows about it too, and he understands. Nobody wanted for this to happen. I was not the only one there. There were other women too. Women and girls. They would cut your fingers if you opposed them. There was a girl about 14 or 15-year-old, no more than that. They cut her fingers. She wanted to defend herself by grabbing their knife. And the Serb, he pulled the knife hard and he cut her fingers off. She now has four fingers missing.


With my husband’s other wife I had a chance to talk. She knows what has happened. She knows because they locked us inside and she could hear us scream and cry inside. My husband’s sister was also outside and she heard me scream too. She mentioned it the next day, said “You were screaming so much.” I said, “They would cut us with their knives, they were about to slaughter us.” She knew it very well, but did not talk about it. And I never spoke about any of the other women. Everyone knew about their own, everyone was only minding their own business.


And my mother… just like all mothers. I would stay up the whole night, she would ask me “What is it my daughter? Why are you not sleeping?” And what could I do? I had to tell my mother why I could not sleep and what had happened to me. I told her and she was shocked. She fainted. Later she asked me “Why didn’t you tell me before?” I said, “Am I telling you about anything good?” She was very supportive. She would see me not sleep all night long. I would turn on the light and stay in the living room. I had a small radio, and I would listen to it. NATO soldiers had given me that small radio. It was small but it had a wheel and you’d turn it and get all sorts of songs.

I would love to see someone support us somehow. We have been neglected. It would be nice to have some support from the government. We would like to see that our rights are met. Nothing else.


15 May 2017 - 11:41

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