The Guardian

The siege of Sarajevo - archive, 1993

Twenty five years ago, the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, was subjected to daily shelling and sniper attacks from Serb nationalist forces. Guardian Europe editor, Ian Traynor, regularly reported from the besieged city
A Bosnian soldier returns fire in downtown Sarajevo as he and civilians come under fire from Serbian snipers, April 1992. Photograph: Mike Persson/AFP/Getty Images

At play in siege city: every child in Sarajevo is a ballistics expert. Ian Traynor reports on the trauma of growing up in wartime

27 February 1993

On a debris-strewn street in the centre of the city, Jasmina is running and skipping with several friends. An explosion echoes off the blocks of flats. It is uncomfortably close. Jasmina does not flinch, merely shrugs. “That’s an anti-aircraft rocket.”

Jasmina is a blonde, blue-eyed Muslim and 10 years old. Like the thousands of children of the Sarajevo siege, she is a ballistics expert, able to distinguish the impact of a mortar from that of a tank shell, the rattle of anti-aircraft fire from that of a Kalashnikov.

The ubiquitous crack and thud of Serbian ordnance hitting the vicinity cannot persuade her to abandon the game of hide-and-seek that she and her five pals are playing.

“Sometimes we get a little frightened,” she says. “But we like playing better. My mum tells me not to go too far away.”

She shakes her pony tail, blows her bubble gum till it, too, explodes, and scrambles over a burnt-out car wreck whose roof has been turned into a rusty colander by dozens of bullet holes.

While Jasmina and her friends play on the street, Edin Serdarevic, an anxious father of two, loiters on the pavement keeping a discreet eye on them. “You can’t keep them cooped up in the flats the whole time,” he says.

After almost a year of terror and encirclement, the parents of Sarajevo have given up trying. Everywhere you go, urchins are on the streets, playing football and tennis in the housing estates amid heaps of burning rubbish, turning charred and gutted buildings into adventure playgrounds. If you sit midway up a tower block and listen to the din outside, the two dominant sounds are of children playing and bullets flying.

One woman tells of a friend in the frontline suburb of Grbavica where life in the shelters is a daily routine. The friend’s little boy snapped and ran out of the basement, crying: “I’m going into the snipers. I can’t stay here anymore. I don’t care.”

A boy playing on a tank in the Sarajevo neighbourhood of Grbavica, April 1996.
A boy playing on a tank in the Sarajevo neighbourhood of Grbavica, April 1996. Photograph: Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images

Jasmina is joined by Davor, also 10, who quite likes it here and has made friends with the kids on the street. But he would rather be on the other side of town where he used to live until forced to move by the war.

“We left our flat on May 13. The Serbs came and pushed

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