The interviewer: Hello, Merita.
Merita Shala: Hello.
The interviewer: Let’s start with when the situation got worsened. Where were you? How old were you? What do you remember from that time? What parts were you mostly emotionally touched by?
Merita Shala: The beginning of the was to me was… only the idea of war was the biggest terror I’ve ever emotionally experienced. I know we all gathered in our bedroom. We were 24 family members. Except for those 24 family members inside the bedroom, there was my uncle’s family, too. I don’t know how we could all fit in that room and I don’t know how we survived. It was anxious and stressful because the Serbian paramilitaries pass through Drenas to go to Jasharajt in…
The interviewer: In Prekaz.
Merita Shala: … in Prekaz. So, I know that my uncle gathered us in a room in order to be close to each other and so nobody would leave. Every time I am stressed I have stomach problems. I had another pressure because I wasn’t able to go out. We were only women and children because men were all in the mountains. The mountains were close. My uncle hid after the hay bales in the village. It was a long night. We talked with the children and each other. I remember my cousin, Besnik, he was the closest person to me. We tried to talk to each other and forget about the fear. We were waiting for the war to begin; when they would be shot or something terrible would happen. It was the period when the attack on the family of Adem Jashari happened. Only the idea of war terrified me because I would always relate it to the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The idea of war made me think none of us would survive. So, this was the moment of the beginning of the war – the most terrible moment – as well as the end of the war. Those were the most difficult experiences for me during the time – from the beginning to the end of the war.
The interviewer: After the attack on the Jashari family, when did you start hearing the shouts or when did you leave the house? What happened during that time?
Merita Shala: After the attack on the Jashari family we were close to the mountains. It was a day when the Serbian paramilitaries were headed to our village and I remember it clearly when my grandfather… I will never understand why it was so hard for him to leave the house although we had to run away and go to a safe place. But, later on, I understood that he had a connection with the house because he sacrificed a lot to build it. Also, it was because of the people and the memories he had, the history, the emotions, the cult, and so on. It is so hard to leave the house as such. But, as a child, we didn’t think that way. I know we were the last to leave the village and it was a difficult moment when we saw the armored vehicles close to us. We had to tell them “mother, let’s leave; grandpa, let’s leave”. My grandfather said… because we didn’t leave until he told us to, he was the head of the family, so he said “Let’s leave because they’re here, they’ll catch us”. It was an anxious moment. We all grabbed each other. We all ran and…
The interviewer: Could you take anything with you?
Merita Shala: We had left a tractor ready and we had a trailer. We were 24 family members and we always went through stressful situations about survival and food. So, we had food there but we also had some blankets and some stuff. It was April, it was wet, the beginning of spring. We got on the tractor and went to a village near Bajnica. The gorge of Bajnica. I will never remember when in the tractor… because in the war, whenever there was a moment of crisis or attack, your appetite would increase. I saw a jar of plums jam and I dipped my finger there. I was scared and under pressure but I was also eating. We joined the crowd that was going to the other village. When we got there, it was like in front of the Ferronikel. Ferronikel was full of Serbians. They were shooting and bombing, and you could hear the bangs. We were like on a hill and there were a lot of people with cars, trailers, and tractors that we had back then. Children were crouched down…
The interviewer: In what village did you go?
Merita Shala: No, we went to… we were all on the street. We didn’t even know where to go, we were stuck. The invader’s target was the gorge of Bajnica because it was known as a place where UÇK militaries were located. They continued shooting in the direction of Bajnica. We moved from there and stopped at a valley because we were endangered by the bombings. We stayed there for the whole day. All inhabitants of the village stayed there till the bombings stopped. Then, we returned home. There were many times when we left the house but I’d like to share one moment with you. When… that was the most difficult day of the whole period of war because we were bombarded by the Serbians for 24 hours in the Mountains of Kosmaq. So, we left the house. I was reading a book. We had a library in the room and I know my family didn’t check the whole house and I don’t know… they ran to the mountains. In the meantime my mother found me in the room, she was the last to leave because she took the cows with her, too. She untied the cows so they wouldn’t be left in the stall. Me and my mom were the last ones. When we started running to the mountain, I remember it so vividly, there was a hill and every time I pass by because I often go out on a picnic there or in the mountains, I remember that story. There was kind of a hill. Their shooting was so precise from their armored vehicles. When the bullets touched the ground you could see the dust… My mom grabbed me and told me “Let’s get in the house of our neighbor because they want to kill us”. The shooting was terrible. I don’t know how we survived. I dragged my mother, I told her “No, they will rape us, they will rape us”. I was so young and I was so scared of the violence – although I was 1. We passed by quickly in order to reach the others. It was a downhill and they were shooting continuously. They shot and threw grenades towards the mountains of Kosmaq. People were getting wounded. My cousin, the only son, has five sisters. While on the subject, my uncle is a missing person. The first doctor of UÇK. My grandmother loved us all but she loved my cousin the most because of the history and the situation. She covered him with her “dimija” (traditional clothes) so that the bullets wouldn’t get to him. At a moment, someone close to my grandmother and my cousin got wounded. It was such a terrifying and anxious moment for us children to experience those bombings. You cannot imagine the shouts, we had to close our ears. The grenades were thrown close to us and the bullets were everywhere, non-stop. I dug a hole and I tried to put my head there so the bullets wouldn’t get me.
The interviewer: What happened with the one who got wounded?
Merita Shala: We didn’t have any medical help there. People helped him. They tried to treat him with pieces of clothing. We didn’t have any help. We were surrounded by them on the three sides of the place. The mountains were bombed that much and I was thinking of how my grandfather said that Kosmaq was never bombed this much. Another interesting thing is that my late aunt once stood up to check where they were, if they were near us, and what was happening to the village. They started burning the houses. There weren’t people left in the houses they were all approaching the crowd. We were around 200-300. We were telling each other to sit because they would put us all in trouble. We didn’t know if they thought they killed us or not. It was around 3 or 4 in the afternoon and the Serbians surrounded us and shot a lot. I was young but I don’t understand how… there were witnesses and they can testify in the court of Haga or anywhere else. Those Serbians put on the uniform of UÇK. My late grandmother, when she saw them in UÇK uniforms, said “Well done, you saved us”. They spoke in Serbian and laughed. My sister laughed and they imitated her. That was an anxious moment. We were thinking of what was going on. Then we figured out they were Serbian militaries when they took us one by one. Most of them were wearing UÇK uniforms. So, the Serbians were wearing UÇK uniforms. Another proof is that my grandfather…. they took us and located us near our house. They took us to a place, a field, close to the houses. There was only a wall between our house and another big field, and there were other houses. They took us there. The infantry came from the mountains. They checked every spot of the mountains. My grandfather told us that they would speak in Albanian and would call names such as “Isuf” or anything similar. People would think that an Albanian was calling but they were Serbians instead. That was their strategy. My grandfather also was hidden behind the bushes. My grandfather told us how there were people killed in front of him. They went there because they thought Albanians were calling and then they killed them. What I remember is that…
The interviewer: What happened after the Serbian military took you there?
Merita Shala: They took us. There was the part of the hill and the mountains. The moment when we got downhill was the most difficult moment I’ve ever experienced. We saw boys and men walking down the road with their hands behind their backs from the street close to the school. I was scared that one of them was my brother or my uncle or someone I knew. We were all crying and screaming, children and women… we couldn’t hold grip. My brother is younger than me but he was taller. I told him to make himself look shorter because they would take him, too. I told him to round his shoulders and make himself look shorter because he was a boy and they would take him. Fortunately, they didn’t take him. They then settled us there. We passed all those people, all those men. We were located close to my house as I mentioned previously. They took all those people to the police station in Drenas. We then went home. It was cold when we got back home and we tried to start a fire to warm up. My grandmother said, “whatever happens, I’m going to go inside the house and take the duvets”. To take the duvets and throw them out because we were close. My grandmother, cousin, and I went there. My grandmother also took some of my sister’s clothes, she was a soldier and she was killed – her death anniversary is approaching. She burnt those clothes. She was scared they would catch us and see those clothes and then they would massacre us.
Merita Shala: We stayed there at that hill, stressed, for a period. We were scared to go to Drenas or any other place. They let us there and told us not to move. It got dark and someone from the Serbians warned us. He told us to run away as soon as possible because whenever the next shift arrived they would massacre us because it was dark and you never know what could happen. They told us to get away from there and to leave by going through the city center. We went by the city from our village. We walked quite a lot but we got there. We went to Shtrubullove of Vernic. We stayed at the house of some relatives. We got settled there. Other than that, this was one of…
The interviewer: Was the situation calmer there?
Merita Shala: Yes, because it was close to Gllogoc and it was calm. Their target was mainly the mountain, the woods, and the villages around the mountains.
The interviewer: Okay. What happens next?
Merita Shala: After we got settled in that house. 8 people slept on a mattress. We didn’t have anything to eat. If we managed to get some bread we ate it with some pickles juice. But, it was the tastiest bread ever. I remember how as children we tried to make jokes, sing songs, and do karaoke. I loved Adelina Ismajli. I would sing “Jo, jo o papak me mu dredhina s’ka” – I would impression her so well and the other children were entertained so much. This happened before we went to Berisha. That was another terror because we had to move from Shtrubulloca and pass by Vukovc in order to arrive in Berisha. It happened all during the night. The police were located in Komoran as well as in Llapushnik. We were in the middle.
We had the order that if we travelled by car or if a child would cry we had to shut their mouths up. That was so anxious because we travelled all night to go to Berisha – a safer place. Although that place was also bombarded. Serbian military surrounded us on the four sides. We experienced again the bombs, wounded people, and burning houses. They cast us out of those houses and we all went to the mountains. It was a different life in the mountains for us because we weren’t used to living in the mountains. We had to settle there and build a tent. We had to look for food because we didn’t have any. My uncle had to go to 3 or 4 villages to find some flour. We had to be economical with the flour and eat less. It was torture. We stayed there till the war ended. It was quite difficult. There were many difficult moments but we survived because of solidarity. The empathy we had for each other, the love and strength we found in order to make it out alive. People suffered and we also suffered… it was so stressful, anxious, and dangerous. You never knew what could happen within the day. You’d always think you could die tomorrow. The idea of the war and that you could go anywhere was terrible. We always thought that was the last time we saw each other. When the Serbian militaries surrounded us we were at risk and were waiting to be killed. That all left consequences. When you think about all it now, from a different perspective, you can’t believe how we could survive; psychologically as well. Because, sometimes only the idea of Serbians being the aggressor terrified you psychologically.
The interviewer: So, you were in Berishe until the war ended. Then, I suppose, you returned to your village?
Merita Shala: When the war ended we were at my grandfather’s uncles in Lladrovc. They had a nice big house and there were many soldiers. We believed we were in heaven. That’s how we said: We got to heaven. There was our salvation and nobody would find us because Berisha mountains were considered safer. We felt safe and we had food. We had food and meat and other stuff. We lacked that before. But, this didn’t last for too long because the Serbians started targeting those spots. Many people were staying in Berisha mountains. I don’t know if there are any statistics but I know there are some pictures and I know people from the villages who stayed in Berisha mountains. NATO shot us one night, most probably it was by mistake. We were sleeping. All the windows of the house were broken and we went outside. We thought it was the Serbians. We all got gathered waiting for what would happen. Meanwhile NATO… We didn’t even know what illumination was. We were staying together waiting for the moment to be killed. We didn’t know it was NATO. Maybe NATO had the wrong guidelines and we underwent such a situation. But, fortunately, nobody died. The shells fell into the two holes that were there. In the meantime, some small rockets didn’t explode. It is so ironic that we didn’t know those were risky. We took them and we touched them. Some of us played with them but we didn’t know about the risks. A relative of my aunt took it with him after Kosovo was liberated. After NATO picked us up and saw he had that they got alarmed. They located the place saying “explosion, explosion”. We didn’t know what was happening. I think we were lucky and God protected us because we weren’t well-informed. We played with dangerous objects and we didn’t know we could end our lives with them. So, the Serbian police got closer to the village after two or three days and we had to leave. We left in a hurry and didn’t have much food or clothing with us. We didn’t think they’d find us in Lladrovc. I remember my mom, cousin, and brother, and I turned back to take some stuff. That morning when we got there, to take the stove to prepare food, the Serbians had already arrived in the village. They were too many and they heard our movements and started shooting. The tractor and its holders, and the stove were all pricked. Fortunately, we survived. We go settled in the mountains. We knew when they would come when they had their shifts, and when they would bombard. The most frightening part was the end of the war. The beginning and the end of the war are the main memories I have. They shot a lot and people got wounded. Children were screaming. We were close to “Perroi i Thate”. I remember when we went to get water from that brook. My mom and the others were always scared and if anything happened we had to lie down. We had to lie down. Me and my sistered dug a hole for us to survive. We dug that hole in the shape of our bodies. If anything would happen we could go there. That was the most terrifying moment we experienced since we were at risk because of the great number of bombings. We also had a lack of food and were surrounded by them on all four sides. If war didn’t end and we had to stay there for 3-4 more days we would starve, or if they continued with those grenades… There were no doctors to treat people, there were no medications, and no food. You didn’t know where to go because you were surrounded. Thankfully, the war ended and I couldn’t wait to go home. I remember as we were going down on top of the stuff on the tractor’s trailer, I was so happy. We were liberated. When we saw the NATO soldiers was the happiest moment in our lives. We were hugging, shouting, and feeling happy. It wasn’t that safe when we got home. The Serbians were focused on our house. There were many syringes, injections, and drugs they had used and thrown away. We, the children, tried to clean our house without having someone check if there were any mines or any risks, or if anything could explode. But, the idea that the war was over and we were at our house was enough for us. We never thought of those possible risks. There too many people in my village, as well as in other places, stepped in mines as a result that nobody checked the place first so that the others could then access it.
The interviewer: Your house wasn’t burnt?
Merita Shala: Not the whole house. The chamber was all burnt. We had it written on the wall in the yard till recently “doktor”. Because it was the house of the doctor, my uncle, who is a missing person. They had written it down. I don’t know how they knew that. Or maybe they had found something that showed it he was a doctor but, yeah. All the things, the books, the pictures, all the memories were burnt. My uncle’s books, too. There were 4 thousand kilograms of flour in the house because my grandfather always… refugees stayed at our house… my grandfather was scared we wouldn’t have food. But, we couldn’t carry that flour with us because it was too much… we didn’t have space… So, yes the house was burnt and everything else.
The interviewer: What was the village like in general? The grass? The animals?
Merita Shala: There were dead animals, even in our yard, and the odor was terrible. The grass and the house were burnt, you could smell the soot. When we arrived home the flour was still burning. It took more time to burn. I don’t know. It was all gloomy, people were sad and they were physically tired as well as spiritually. Because people suffered a lot and lacked food. They weren’t able to survive even if we had that luxury. I told you we had to eat our bread with pickles juice. The village went from a liveliness village to a destroyed one. All of the villages were ruined I don’t know if there was a house which wasn’t burnt down. Everything was burnt. The school was burnt and everything else. It was an image that we couldn’t take pictures of. Now when I see the war in Ukraine it reminds me of those roads filled with stuff, burnt electrical pillars, tractors, and cars. We had a van and it was burnt. This is an image now we see in other countries: ruined and burnt houses.
The interviewer: Thank you very much!