The people of Sarajevo endured the longest siege Europe has witnessed since the end of the Second World War. For 47 months families were held hostage in their own city without food, medicine, electricity or running water, by Bosnian Serb gunmen who had been their neighbors until this civil war erupted in the spring of 1992.
By the time their suffering ended in February 1996, more than 10,600 Sarajevans had been killed. Another 56,000 people were wounded, many of them maimed or invalided for life. More than 1,600 children died and 15,000 were wounded.
Sarajevo had emerged from Marshall Tito’s Communist rule with optimism and hope, but its mainly Muslim population watched with trepidation as the former Yugoslavia tore itself apart with ethnic hatred and war. The turning point for Sarajevo came in March 1992 when Bosnia-Herzegovina declared its independence, and on April 6, thousands of peace protestors took to the streets of the capital to march to the Parliament building.
Shots rang out and the siege of Sarajevo had begun. All roads into the city were blockaded and the airport closed as the Bosnian Serbs sealed off the city from the outside world. From now on this would become a fight for survival.
Daring to go out in search of bread or water could cost your life. Everyone, even the very young, knew the only way they dare venture outdoors was to run for their lives between makeshift barricades trying to elude the snipers. All the city’s parks were stripped of trees for firewood then turned into cemeteries. The graveyards soon overflowed and ornamental gardens where courting couples once walked became burial grounds.
In July 1991, Tom Stoddart travelled to Sarajevo to document the civil war that was engulfing Yugoslavia. The work from Sarajevo was published across the world. Returning a year later for The Sunday Times Magazine, Tom was seriously injured in heavy fighting around the Bosnian Parliament buildings.