By Igor Skevin
It was the beginning of tumultuous years in the former Yugoslavia. Serbia tried to make Yugoslavia completely under her command, or to force Slovenia and Croatia to give Serbia much Croatian territory. In 1990 the Yugoslav People’s Army began dismissing Croatian reservists, including me.
Shortly after I gave back them my uniform and boots, Croatian Police called me and several hundred others. We signed a Declaration of Loyalty, yet I was able to continue studying Mechanical Engineering. As I prepared for exams, a draft came.
I was in dilemma: should I go or use my studies to withdraw from war? I enlisted thinking I didn’t want my grandchildren to lose their homeland. I spent two weeks in a small police station, mostly drinking coffee with fellow reservists. In August, they told thirty of us they needed 20 men for a frontline.
I had become friends with Vojo — a Serb. We raised our hands, they wrote down our names. We both said: “It will be easier with people we know.”
We soon found ourselves in Sunja village, near the river Sava, 80 kilometers southeast from the state capital Zagreb. Vojo and I were in a foxhole with two other men. Eight daylight hours, Vojo and I were free to sleep or go to the village. One day after a phone call he was pale. I asked him how is his girlfriend. “Not good. There’s a Yugoslav army tank in her back yard.”
At night, with only assault rifles and not enough ammunition to defend ourselves, we were scared to death. Our enemies had mortars, machine guns and ammo. When we finished our guard shift, we were often too nervous to sleep in our sleeping bags in the foxhole with the other guys taking the shift. Our amateur commanders didn’t make us confident — forcing us to dig additional trenches for defense and for deception. We were completely exhausted.
Every night we heard battle rattling from Kostajnica, 20 kilometers south. One night explosions suddenly stopped. Vojo said: “Now it’s our turn.” Next night fire blazed over the forest near us. The enemy was burning down houses in a nearby village. Enemy men walked through a dry canal in front of us, carrying a lamp above their heads. If we shot at them, that would provoke mortar fire on us the next morning.
One night I was so tired I had visions during every blink of my eyes. I was sitting in a trench behind Vojo. He saw my head swinging downwards and said: “Doze a few minutes. I’ll be awake.”
Couple of days later, we were back in Zagreb. For me, looking in the face of horror was over. That ten minutes of sleep meant to me — at that time — more than a million bucks. Ten years after that night, I am as thankful to Vojo as if he had directly saved my life. Who knows, maybe he did just by giving me that ten minutes of sleep.