The Fall of Vukovar: Oral History of a Croatian Town’s Destruction

The Yugoslav People's Army, aided by Serb Territorial Defence forces and paramilitaries from Serbia, launched a full-blown attack on Vukovar in eastern Croatia on August 25, 1991, beginning a siege that would last for 86 days and leave around 3,000 soldiers and civilians dead before the town's defenders had to surrender.

When the siege began, many of the town's residents, particularly women, children and elderly people, went down into their basements to hide from artillery bombardment, tank fire and air strikes.

Manda Patko was living with her husband and mother-in-law in Bogdanovacka Street in Vukovar's Milovo Brdo neighbourhood. From late August 1991, she and her mother-in-law spent most of their time hiding in their basement, as their house quickly became uninhabitable due to heavy damage from shelling.

"You could not go outside or talk to other neighbours, as our house was away from other houses, and shells were falling in the street all the time. There were days when you couldn't even come out from the basement. I was counting shells. If I counted six, it usually stopped or continued. If it stopped, I would come out from the basement to the toilet in the garden. I would get the water at our neighbours' during one of those breaks in shelling," Patko said.

Iva Radic was eight in 1991, with a Croat father and Serb mother, living in the Sajmiste neighbourhood. Like Patko, she hid in the basement.

"The whole neighbourhood was coming to our basement, from different ethnic background: Croats, Serbs, Ruthenians, Slovaks. In the neighbourhood, there were basements where there were only Croats and ones with only Serbs. However, ours was the only one where everyone was," remembered Radic.

After the Croat...

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