|The Daily Telegraph May 7, 1999
'ATTACKS ON BELGRADE ARE DRIVING US MAD'
Prof Miroslav Milicevic, Chief of Surgery at Belgrade University
Hospital, has lived through the bombing of Belgrade. In extracts
from a letter to a friend with whom he worked for two years at
Imperial College, London, he describes his experiences. He has
never been a suppporter of President Milosevic and carries no
political affiliation, according to his friend.
Tuesday, May 4.
Hope you and the kids are doing OK. My father told me that you
called and that you said that you have been trying to reach me for
some time but that it proved impossible. I am not surprised, it is a
miracle that phones are working at all, not to mention international
I really thank you both for inquiring about us. What can I say
about the way we live. Whatever I say is not terrible enough and
does not portray the present situation in its extreme horror. When
the bombing started, Lepa and the kids were here for two days. I
have a bomb shelter in the house where I live and we spent
practically two nights there.
The sirens, the blasts and the general feeling really deranged my
kids (they are only 5 and 7) and Lepa could not take it at all. It was
like a nightmare. My kids really suffered greatly and after a few days
I had to decide to move them out of the country, which was not easy
There was really no choice since they would definitely have been
psychologically damaged for life. I made up my mind in two hours
and arranged for a minibus to drive my family and the families of
two of my friends to Budapest. We were driving behind the minibus
to make sure they made it across the bridges. Can you imagine how
it feels when you are speeding down the road and 700 metres to
your left you have screeching aircraft piloted by morons bombing the
airfield in Batajnica? Can you imagine how the kids feel?
We knew that it was an opportunity to get our families to safety
and that we had to take it no matter what the risk was. Believe me
Nagy, that we only hoped that if someone had to die it was us and
not our children. They made it to Budapest, thank God. From there
Lepa and the kids went to Moscow. It is fortunate that I have a
brother there and he has been taking care of them since.
What has been happening since. Utter madness. We do very little
surgery, only what is inevitable and have emptied the hospital for
eventual casualties. We are low on supplies, and you can imagine
how surgeons that do not operate feel.
We have 24 hour shifts every few days (several teams headed by
a professor) as spare teams for the Emergency Centre teams. There
is depression and anger everywhere you turn. No one can do
anything smart - we just exist. I cannot write or read. Friends (since
most families are in exile) meet and spend their time together. I am
relieved when I operate - it keeps my mind off my family and the
unbelievable reality. Can you believe that 500 million of the richest
and most powerful people in the world (the largest fighting force
ever) has attacked 10 million people that have been devastated by
sanctions and a European capital is being bombed at the end of the
second millennium. People do not smile any more, survival is the
only preoccupation. It is only important that our kids do not suffer.
I have stopped watching satellite news. I cannot stand the
propaganda telling me that I belong to a nation that does not deserve
to live. Believe me that what you see in the news has nothing to do
with how really terrible things are. More than 80 per cent of the
bridges have been destroyed, most railroads and roads. Both
refineries have been destroyed, there is no gasoline at all, and we
practically do not drive cars any more. More than 300 schools and
university buildings have been damaged. More than 1 million pre-
school, school and university students do not go to school any more.
The semester has been concluded one month ago. My daughter
has not learned to read properly in first grade and she is already in
the second grade. The whole generation will be crippled. Believe me,
I have lived through some of the most difficult days in my life, I am
tough and I do not break and will not break.
In Belgrade practically no one sleeps at night any more, since the
main bombings take place from 22:30 to 04:30. It is enough to hear
enemy planes fly over your cities, the cruise missiles (they fly low
and slow), to hear and feel the explosions. When planes do not fly
you still think you hear them. It is hard to stay sane.
Imagine seeing buildings you grew up next to crumble and be
turned to dust. It is like someone is erasing a part of your life.
Seeing your city destroyed is so sad. When they bombed the
Ministry for Internal Affairs my teams were on duty at the Clinic.
That building is barely 200 metres from the First Surgical. Can you
imagine how it feels and how it sounds? The blast, shattering glass,
the fire, smoke etc. Anti-aircraft guns and rockets light up the sky. A
small nation can only do so much.
Last Thursday was one of the worst days. My teams were on
duty again and at around 01:30 they rocketed the same building
twice again and the army headquarters only 800 metres away. The
rockets flew over our heads, the explosions were terrible.
When we left for the casualties there was some in the air, dust,
the smell of chemicals and flames all over the place. Like in a lousy
war movie. In fifteen minutes the attack was repeated and all the
people that went into the building to look for the injured were
In that one night our teams amputated three legs (two in the
same patient), one in another and one on the spot of the bombing.
Can you believe that this is happening in the main street of Belgrade
several hundred metres from the hospital? For the past few weeks I
have really aged. Then they bombed the TV station only 900 metres
from my flat. In that attack 17 people were killed and crushed.
Another leg amputation had to be done on the spot.
A few days ago they used special carbon dust and fibre bombs
and shorted the electrical power grid so that 80 per cent of Serbia
was without electricity the entire night, part of the next day and
some are still without electricity.
Can you imagine in a city of 2 million how many babies could
not be taken care of during the night? You know our hospitals and
how much we can do with generators. If this is not cruelty beyond
compare then I am probably insane already. This must be a
nightmare, it could not be happening. When the death tolls become
public, I am certain that generations to come will hide their face in
shame. They will want to skip this lesson in history books.
The worst part is wondering why this all is happening. All of my
life I tried to be decent, honest and dignified doing no wrong to
anyone. Most of my friends are the same. We worked hard to
achieve something. Now that everything started working for me,
patient referrals, operations, income, research etc, everything is
disrupted and there is no future any more. I can really see no more
sense in anything I do.
We barely had the means for serious hepatic surgery before the
aggression and now we have no means for serious surgery at all.
What have I been doing for the past 50 years at all?
I know one thing for sure. If all this does not induce drastic
political changes and some, even remote, future for my kids - I am
through with surgery and this is not going to be a place where I want
them to grow up in, I can harbour my fury and hatred, I can function
even at a time like this and I shall not break but I keep asking myself
why so much violence, hatred, destruction - is it so hard to be
The problem is that there is no end in sight and people change.
The weak crack, psychopaths strive, the normal suffer and I am sure
that nothing here is ever going to be the same again. What can we as
doctors do? I cannot leave my people in time of greatest need and
none of my friends has done so. We can only speak our mind and
promote moral principles hoping that sanity will prevail.
Unfortunately no one wants to hear. If we were a species of
animals I am sure animal protection groups would stand up against
what is happening to us. This is how I live presently. I shall do my
best to survive and provide a future for my kids. They deserve it. I
am not a quitter and I shall take what is coming. At this point,
surgery seems so far away because one does not understand the
purpose of anything any more.
I have hope and that will guide me. I have friends and they make
this turmoil easier to bear. All the best to all of you.