Wednesday, May 22, 2019
Travelling from Osijek to Vukovar;
Another early morning. We left our guesthouse at 8 am in three vehicles: 2 vans and an old model (1970) Mercedes. The Mercedes belongs to our host’s father who had been chartered to help with transporting our group.
Our first stop was a war memorial in the Vukovar hospital. Our local guide Matay found it emotionally distressing to go there and even having to translate some of the information. He told us that being there brings up many memories for him.
Our tour leader is Serbian and our local guide is Croatian – they get along very well. Yet at times like this when confronted with the harsh reality of what happened during the civil war of 1991 – 1995, the fact that they were children belonging to opposite sides during those years, brings a tension in the air. We asked Dusan (our tour leader) what it was like for him to be there. He answered that he has his own story and will be able to tell us about that later on during the trip.
We were gathering in a room in the basement of the hospital, where we watched a video of the destruction of Vukovar and the attacks on the hospital by the Serbs. The siege lasted three months. The video showed some graphic footage of the people being driven from their homes and town by the bombing and destruction. The hospital was destroyed; the patients, staff and their families all lived in the atomic shelter in the basement of the hospital.
We had a tour through the different “rooms” that were created such as the operating room, the supply rooms and the wards for very sick people, recuperating, the birth room. Lots of patients were lying in the long hall on both sides. There was also a dark, empty room with only three candles burning and a voice reading the names of those that died there during the siege.
It was a moving experience; we were all very quiet. We also were very aware of how close of a personal experience this was for both our leaders.
Afterwards we walked into town which has been mostly rebuilt with some financial support from the European Union. We had half an hour free time; had a cup of tea/coffee in the sunshine. Quite a few of groups of young people came by, whistling, laughing and throwing cups of water at each other or having water guns shooting at each other. Matay told us that today was the last day of school for the senior high school students and they were celebrating. It was fun to watch that joy and fun in those young people. It helped us get back to be present in the here and now. We also bought some pastries for our lunch on the way.
Then we drove a few streets further and stopped for a few minutes at the Vukovar water tower. It is being restored – it was bombed a lot during the war. Every time it was bombed and the flag was destroyed or taken away, one brave man went up and planted a new flag – a symbol of unity and hope!