On today’s date 28 years ago, on 10 June 1993, as the conflict between the Army of RBiH and HVO raged, a shell fired from an ARBiH position killed eight children in Vitez. This year, once again, the families of the victims came to lay flowers and say a prayer at the site where their loved ones were killed.
The youngest victim was nine-year-old Augustina Grebenar whose 12-year-old brother Velimir was also killed. The victims also included 12-year-old Milan and 18-year-old Sanja Garić, another pair of siblings, as well as 15-year-old Dragan Ramljak, Draženko Čečura and Sanja Križanović, and ten-year-old Boris Antičević.
According to the memories of the survivors, the 15 of them were outside that day, 10 June 1993, in the Podgradina neighbourhood when around 8:45 pm a shell interrupted their play. Five children were killed instantly, three died in hospital, and six were wounded.
The bench, basketball hoop and “Osmica” memorial at the playground in Podgradina stand as reminders of this cruelly interrupted children’s play. Each year on 10 June, families gather there to lay flowers and light candles.
This year again, the mass was led by Fra Velimir Bavrka, the local priest, who addressed words of comfort and hope for the families of the victims, saying that the gathering was proof that the innocent children that were killed had not been forgotten.
“Our dear angels, we have not forgotten you here. As believers, we have come here to celebrate the Eucharist as the pinnacle of Church life. This is the source from which we quench our thirst and hunger. We have come once again to testify to Our Lord that we are grateful for standing before Him and serving Him, as our innocent killed children had done. We continue to pray with all our hearts, and forgive in the spirit of Christ even those who did this,” said Fra Bavrka.
No one has yet been prosecuted for the killing of these children in Vitez, but as the Prosecutor’s Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina previously confirmed to BIRN, the case is within its competences. From year to year, the families have been pointing out that nothing is being done in terms of prosecution and that the circumstances of the children’s deaths, such as the exact location from where the shell was fired, have not been established by a court of law to this day. Reporters of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) have dealt in more detail with the killing of the Vitez children in their series of articles on forgotten victims.
Milko Garić, the father of Sanja and Milan who were killed, said at the commemoration that the families feel the same pain today as the first day.
“Our children were killed that night at 9, we buried them early in the morning around 5, there was no mass, no funeral, we gather here by the memorial, by the hoop, to remember them,” Garić said.
They organise the commemorations themselves each year, without politicians or representatives of associations from the past war, because, as they say, they will not allow manipulations with the victims. They also say that all people of good will are welcome to join them in prayer to remember the innocently killed.
Davorka Turk from the peace organisation Centre for Nonviolent Action Sarajevo-Belgrade attended the commemoration for the killed children again this year with her colleagues to show support to the families.
“We were here last year and, unfortunately, many people are still unaware of these deaths, especially people outside Vitez and Bosnia. Neglecting sites of suffering and failure to recognise the crimes that were committed feed fears that they will be repeated. We have come here, as we have gone to many other places, to express our support and solidarity with the families of the victims and to once again call on the relevant institutions to prosecute those responsible, their responsibility being all the greater because these victims were children. We are here because we want to keep these children, their deaths and the suffering of their families from oblivion. We mourn the loss of every human life and stand united in our commitment to ensure that the war, injustices and atrocities are never repeated,” said Davorka Turk.
Despite the rain that day, the commemoration in Vitez was attended by several hundred people from Vitez and other towns.