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Srebrenica Anniversary Prompts Reflection by Bosnian-Americans

CHICAGO – Behidin Piric never had the chance to know his maternal grandfather.

In 2009, the St. Lou..

CHICAGO – Behidin Piric never had the chance to know his maternal grandfather.

In 2009, the St. Louis, Missouri, resident received a phone call from his native Bosnia informing him that his grandfathers body had been found in a mass grave with his hands tied behind the back with barbed wire. He had two bullet wounds in the back of his head.

“I had the task of telling my mother who came home from work that they found her father, so that was a pretty tough thing to do,” said the 27-year-old American student.

Pirics grandfather was one of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim civilians, mostly men, who were killed in the town of Srebrenica during the Bosnian war.

“The genocide began in Srebrenica in July of 1995 and was a catastrophic uprooting of multiple generations of Bosnian Muslim families,” said Ida Sefer, president of the Chicago-based Bosnian-American Genocide and Education center, in an e-mail interview with VOA.

Behidin Pirics grandfather and great uncles remains that were found in a mass grave in Srebrenica, Bosnia.

Behidin Piric’s grandfather and great uncle’s remains that were found in a mass grave in Srebrenica, Bosnia. Piric, a survivor of the Srebrenica Genocide of 1995, has many family members who were executed during the massacre.

She said Bosnian Serbs backed by neighboring Serbia used torture, sexual assault, forced impregnation, concentration camps, rape camps, ethnic cleansing and murder against the Bosnian Muslim population in the three years after Bosnia declared its independence from the former state of Yugoslavia in 1992.

The International Criminal Court in The Hague convicted former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, and sentenced him to life imprisonment in 2017. Former Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic was convicted in 2016 for his war crimes and role in perpetrating the genocide.

Officials from the Serbian Embassy in Washington did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

July 11 marks the 25th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre. Decades later, survivors and other Bosnians still have a difficult time speaking about the calamities they went through.

“We will never heal. Our loss is so huge, so enormous that we will never heal, especially my generation,” said Senada Pargan, a Srebrenica survivor and one of the more than 21,000 Bosnian refugees who came to the United States in the years after the massacre. “Twenty-five years later, we are still searching for [the remains of] our loved ones.”

Pargan resides today in Lansing, Michigan, where she has been living since 2001. She was 17 years old when Srebrenica fell to Serbian forces and her home was bombed. Sobbing during a phone interview, she said she lost 99 family members including uncles and cousins as well as neighbors, friends, and classmates.

The tragedy was compounded, she said, by lengthy periods when the villagers had no access to food or medicine.

She fled to the nearby village of Potacari, which is now home to the Srebrenica Genocide Memorial and a cemetery for the victims. In 1995, Potacari served as a place of refuge for Muslims from other parts of Bosnia.

Pargan was separated from her parents and brother initially, but managed to reunite with them later. She describes the night of July 12, 1995 as one of the most painful.

“They were taking people and killing them and torturing them,” she said. “Everything was so quiet, but you can hear screaming of whoever they were torturing somewhere close to us.”

Pargan wrote two books, “A Sorrow for Silence” in 2011 and “Darkness of Silver Lights” in 2015, made up of poems and stories dedicated to people she loved or situations she faced during the war.

“There was only one story that I still cannot write about and I dont even know when I will be able to write about it,” she said. That story is about one of her best friends who was killed when he tried to steal food from a neighboring Serbian village to feed her. At the time, Pargan had not eaten in nine days.

Behidin Piric, a survivor of the Srebrenica Genocide of 1995, stands next to the grave of his aunts husband

Behidin Piric, a survivor of the Srebrenica Genocide of 1995, stands next to the grave of his aunt’s husband, who was killed in the massacre, while visiting the Srebrenica Memorial Center in Bosnia in 2012.

Pirics family came to America in 2000 and now lives in St. Louis, home to the largest Bosnian community in the United States. Piric is studying history at the University of Missouri and is an intern for the Bosnia Memory Project at Fontbonne University in St. Louis.

The purpose of the initiative is to record the culture and experiences of Bosnian genocide survivors through interviews, books, letters, and photographs.

The Bosnian war was already underway when Piric was born in Srebrenica in 1992. His earliest memory is of leaving Tuzla, the third-largest city in Bosnia, with his parents and brothers after the war ended with the signing of the Dayton Accords by the presidents of Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia in November 1995.

“I remember being in the back of the U.N. truck and seeing soldiers and a bunch of other people,” he recalled. “After that, I have a lot of memories of the rebuilding of the country – the tensions that were still there in the city where I lived after the war. There was still a lot of religious tension, ethnic tensions.”

Pirics father was wounded during the war when a mine exploded, damaging his legs while he was farming potatoes. Besides his grandfather, Piric also lost his maternal grandmother, an uncle, and “countless cousins.”

Gravestones are lined up at the memorial cemetery in Potocari, near Srebrenica, Bosnia, July 7, 2020.

Gravestones are lined up at the memorial cemetery in Potocari, near Srebrenica, Bosnia, July 7, 2020.

Like Pargan, he said that he and his parents still cannot heal from the tragic events at Srebrenica even though 25 years have gone by.

“When I go back to Srebrenica to the memorial, its a strange feeling,” he said. ”Theres a feeling of dread. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I get goose bumps, so its difficult.”

Retelling the story of Srebrenica to future generations and never forgetting all those who were lost has become a mission for the Bosnian community in the United States, especially as some Bosnian Serb officials continue to deny that a systematic genocide occurred during the war.

A woman prays at the memorial cemetery in Potocari, near Srebrenica, July 7, 2020. Over 8,000 Bosnian Muslims perished in 10 days of slaughter after the town was overrun by Serb forces in the closing months of the 1992-95 fratricidal war.

A woman prays at the memorial cemetery in Potocari, near Srebrenica, July 7, 2020. Over 8,000 Bosnian Muslims perished in 10 days of slaughter after the town was overrun by Serb forces in the closing months of the 1992-95 fratricidal war.

“Remembering the 8,372 victims and their families during this time is an important part of preventing genocide in the future, meaning uplifting the voices of the survivors,” Sefer said.

“Listening to survivor testimonials, reading the stories of their loved ones, humanizing the people who were murdered, is all a part of remembering.”

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Aliku Ogorchukwu: Wife of Nigerian killed in Italy demands justice

The wife of a Nigerian street trader who was killed in Italy has told the BBC she is seeking justice following his “painful death”.

Aliku Ogorchukwu, 39, was reportedly selling handkerchiefs in the seaside town of Civitanova Marche on Friday when he was chased and beaten to death.

A 32-year-old Italian has been arrested on suspicion of murder and robbery.

A video circulating online shows a man on top of Ogorchukwu, punching him with his bare hands.

None of those who witnessed the broad daylight attack appeared to intervene.

“This is a form of wickedness I don’t know,” Ogorchukwu’s wife, Charity Oriachi, told the BBC’s Focus on Africa.

Ms Oriachi said she had received help in coming to terms with her husband’s death but was tired of “talk”. Now, she was only interested in justice, she insisted.

Her family had lived in Italy for a long time, she said, stressing that her husband had never sought any trouble.

The killing has sparked outrage in the local community, including Nigerians, who took to the streets over the weekend and are planning another demonstration soon.

The Nigerian government has asked Italian authorities to quickly “bring the perpetrator of the heinous act” to justice.

Suspect not released

The suspect – a white man named as Filippo Claudio Giuseppe Ferlazzo – has been ordered to remain in jail as the investigation continues.

His defence lawyer told the media the suspect had said he was sorry and that there was “no racial element” involved.

A police investigator said Ogorchukwu was attacked after the trader’s “insistent” requests to the suspect and his partner for spare change.

The partner, identified as Elena D, told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that Ogorchukwu had touched her arm, but that did not bother her.

Ms Oriachi now wants to see the suspect “face to face”, to understand why he killed her husband, the family’s lawyer told the Associated Press.

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Ukrainian widow confronts Russian soldier accused of killing her husband

In the very first days of this invasion a 62-year-old unarmed civilian was shot dead on a village street outside his Ukrainian home. His name was Oleksandr Shelipov.

Three months later and the captured Russian soldier accused of killing him is in Kyiv being tried for a war crime.

Standing up in court to confront the 21-year-old defendant on Thursday was Kateryna Shelipova, the widow of the man killed.

Did he repent his crime, she asked?

The Russian tank commander, Vadim Shishimarin, replied that he admitted his guilt and asked for her forgiveness. “But I understand you won’t be able to forgive me,” he added.

Kateryna Shelipova hadn’t finished. “Tell me please, why did you [Russians] come here? To protect us?” she asked, citing Vladimir Putin’s justification for the invasion of Ukraine.

“Protect us from whom? Did you protect me from my husband, whom you killed?”

The soldier had no answer to that.

This landmark trial marks the first time a Russian serviceman has been put on the stand for war crimes since the invasion of Ukraine was launched in February.

And perhaps such raw encounters are what such trials are about, at least in part. Forcing a soldier – who ignored all the rules of war – to face up to exactly what he has done and the suffering he has caused.

Sgt Shishimarin has pleaded guilty and Ukrainian prosecutors are asking for him to be sentenced to life imprisonment.

On Wednesday, Ms Shelipova told me she actually felt sorry for the soldier, but she could not forgive him for this crime.

She heard the shots that killed her husband, then saw Sgt Shishimarin through her gate – holding his weapon.

Five minutes later she says she saw her husband’s body: “He was dead with a shot in his head. I started screaming very loudly.”

“The loss of my husband is everything for me,” Ms Shelipova said, adding: “He was my protector.”

‘It killed him’

Recalling the events of 28 February, Vadim Shishimarin said he and a small group of other Russian soldiers had become separated from their unit and hijacked a car in order to return to it.

“As we were driving, we saw a man. He was talking on the phone,” the defendant said.

He claimed that he hadn’t wanted to fire the fatal shots, that he was following orders – threatened by another soldier if he refused to do as he was told.

“He said I would be putting us in danger if I didn’t. I shot him at short range. It killed him,” the 21-year-old tank commander told the court.

Interestingly, his defence lawyer – appointed by the state – told me that no Russian official has been in touch with him, including from its defence ministry.

There is no Russian embassy in Kyiv these days, so no contact from there either.

President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman yesterday told the BBC that the Kremlin has “no information” about this case.

All in all, it feels rather like the young soldier has been abandoned to his fate by the commanders who sent him to war and continue to deny that their forces commit crimes here.

We also heard from a second Russian soldier who witnessed the killing in February and later surrendered to Ukrainian forces.

Ivan Maltysev, another slight and young-looking 21-year-old, told the court how the Russian soldiers spotted Oleksandr Shelipov while they were driving the stolen car.

Mr Maltysev claimed that Vadim Shishimarin was then ordered to shoot the victim because he was on the phone.

“Vadim didn’t do it. So the soldier, whose name I don’t know, turned round in the car and shouted that Vadim had to carry out the order, or we would be informed on.

“At this point, we were almost alongside the civilian and, under pressure, Vadim fired. He fired three or four rounds.”

Ukraine has so far identified more than 11,000 possible war crimes committed by Russia.

Moscow has denied its troops have targeted civilians, but investigators have been collecting evidence of possible war crimes to bring before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

This trial is Ukraine’s chance to prove, beyond doubt, that a Russian soldier killed a civilian with no regard for the rules of war.

Its prosecutors know they are in the spotlight, proceeding so quickly, and in the middle of a war.

That is why they are keen to be as transparent and thorough as possible – so that this is not seen as a show trial, but part of a vital quest for justice.

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Stop matching lone female Ukraine refugees with single men, UK told

The UN refugee agency has called on the UK government to intervene to stop single British men from being matched up with lone Ukrainian women seeking refuge from war because of fears of sexual exploitation.

Following claims that predatory men are using the Homes for Ukraine scheme to target the vulnerable, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) told the Guardian “a more appropriate matching process” could be put in place to ensure women and women with children are matched with families or couples.

The suggestion from the global refugee agency follows reports that Ukrainian refugees, predominantly women and sometimes accompanied by children, are at risk in the UK of sexual exploitation.

Under the government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme, British hosts must link up with Ukrainian refugees themselves, leaving tens of thousands of people to resort to unregulated social media groups to connect.

A government-backed matching service run by the charity Reset offers to match UK hosts with refugees but has been operating for just over a week. Those who want to move to the UK must have a sponsor before applying for a visa.

In a statement, the UNHCR said there was a need for adequate safeguards and vetting measures to be in place against exploitation, as well as adequate support for sponsors. “[The] UNHCR believes that a more appropriate matching process could be put in place by ensuring that women and women with children are matched with families or couples, rather than with single men.

“Matching done without the appropriate oversight may lead to increasing the risks women may face, in addition to the trauma of displacement, family separation and violence already experienced,” a spokesperson said.

Leading refugee charities raised their concerns about the Homes for Ukraine scheme in a letter to Michael Gove, the minister in charge of the scheme. Louise Calvey, the head of safeguarding at the charity Refugee Action, told the Observer it was at risk of being a “Tinder for sex traffickers”.

One 32-year-old woman from Bakhmut, Ukraine, who has been searching for an appropriate person to match in the UK, wrote that she had received suggestive messages from men on Facebook’s Messenger app. “I was approached by one older guy from London who said that I would have to share a bedroom with him, and was asked if I was OK with that,” she said in an email seen by the Guardian.

The Sunday Times reported this week that a journalist posing as a 22-year-old Ukrainian woman from Kyiv found that within minutes of posting a message on the largest Facebook group for UK hosts she was inundated with inappropriate messages.

Some men lied about having several bedrooms in their one-bed homes while another proposed sharing a bed, writing: “I have a large bed. We could sleep together.” Another sent a voice note that said: “I am ready to help you and maybe you can help me also.”

In its statement, the UNHCR also raised concerns about the repercussions should the original UK host prove a potential threat to the safety of the refugee, and the six-month minimum duration on the Homes for Ukraine scheme.

“UNHCR believes that appropriate training and information are needed to ensure that hosts make an informed decision when applying to become sponsors. Housing a stranger in an extra bedroom for an extended period is not, for some people, sustainable,” the spokesperson said.

There is growing public anger over the length of time that Ukrainians are being forced to wait before being given visas from the Home Office amid the biggest refugee crisis in Europe since the second world war.

Priti Patel, the home secretary, apologised on Friday for the time it had taken for Ukrainian refugees to arrive in the UK under two visa schemes, after figures showed only 12,000 had so far reached Britain.

Reports on Tuesday claimed Gove had been accused of bullying Home Office officials by Patel’s permanent secretary, Matthew Rycroft.

Asked to respond to the UNHCR’s request for an intervention on sexual exploitation of Ukrainian women, a government spokesperson said: “Attempts to exploit vulnerable people are truly despicable – this is why we have designed our Homes for Ukraine scheme to have specific safeguards in place, including robust security and background checks on all sponsors, both by the Home Office and local authorities.

“Councils must make at least one in-person visit to a sponsors property and following guests arrival, they have a duty to ensure the guest is safe and well.

“We have also partnered with the charity Reset Communities and Refugees to fund and provide a matching service for sponsors and refugees to ensure that matches made are suitable, safe and successful. This service will vet eligibility, assess needs, and provide training for sponsors to ensure they

ensure they can support the people they host.”

Asked to confirm or deny whether there had been a complaint that Gove had bullied staff, the spokesperson added: “Humanitarian schemes set up in record time by the Home Office and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities working closely together are helping thousands of Ukrainians find safety in the UK.”


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