Incredible Photos of the Siege of Sarajevo

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.

Sarajevans run for cover during shooting in ‘Sniper Alley’, 1992
A child and puppy in the shattered landscape of Sarajevo. The girl in this picture was identified after the war as Merima Jakupovic with her puppy Smoki, 1992
A gravedigger at work in Sarajevo’s Lion Cemetery. Prior to the war, lovers met and people walked their dogs here. In 1992 an average of 12 citizens a day were being buried there
A woman hurries past graffiti in the area known as ‘Sniper Alley’ in Sarajevo’s main thoroughfare, during the siege in 1992
A young widow grieves over the coffin of her husband during his burial in the Lion Cemetery, Sarajevo, 1992
Alone with her thoughts. A beautiful girl mourns in the Lion Cemetery, 1992
Cellist Vedran Smalovic breaks down in tears after playing a requiem to a dead friend at Hero’s Cemetery, 1992
Sheltering from a heavy mortar bombardment. 67-year-old Antonia Arapovic, hugs her neighbour’s terrified child in the darkness of a underground cellar in Sarajevo, 1992
Shrapnel wounds on the face of a frightened boy in a ward of a Sarajevo hospital during the siege in 1992
Tears of anguish from a mother. She prepares to send her confused child out of Sarajevo on a bus promised safe passage by the Serb forces during the siege in 1992
Women run for their lives across ‘Sniper Alley’ under the sights of Serb gunmen during the siege of Sarajevo in 1992
Women support each other as they cross a dangerous intersection of ‘Sniper Alley’ during the siege in 1992
A smiling child runs across ‘Sniper Alley’ during heavy fighting in 1993
In the dangerous suburb of Dobrinja, Meliha Vareshanovic walks proudly and defiantly to work. Her message to the watching gunmen who surround her city is simple, “you will never defeat us”, 1993
A woman tries to summon up the courage to cross ‘Sniper Alley’ during fighting in Sarajevo in 1994
Sedija Katica, who lost both legs after being hit by a grenade, plays with her 5 year old daughter, Amra near the frontline in Sarajevo, 1994

(Photo © Tom Stoddart / Getty Images)

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