Twenty years after the famous fights on Pastrik, Slavoljub Mitic (40) from Vranje, one of the participants in the battle and the only survivor of the death truck which transported the wounded, speaks of the days when the 549th motorized brigade of the Yugoslav Army defended not only the state border but showed that they have a sense of community and awareness of defending their homeland, stronger than far more numerous and technically more equipped enemies.
The border post on Pastrik, where the 19-year-old member of the 55th border battalion was placed, Slavoljub Mitic, with another 37 members, was one of the hardest posts to defend on Serbian-Albanian borders.
- You remember the feeling, there is no way to forget that, sadness and anxiety when you remember that, you get the chills from the memories. We were deployed in Pirot when we were moved to Prizren on December 10th, 1998. We stayed there for two days and we received a schedule, right to the border, post-Gorozup.
A FRIEND TOLD ME: MAY GOD HELP YOU
When I found a friend in Prizren from Kriva Feja (a place near Vranje), I asked him what was it like there, and he said, if you come to Vrbnica it will be nice and if you go to post Gorozup, may God help you. As soon as they started reading the names for Gorozup, I was called out fourth. We have reached the post, there was snow, we had the training, getting to know the terrain. There was shooting all of the time, and it wasn't war, I was totally lost and you can't say there wasn't any fear. It wasn't easy for me - Mitic was honest.
Although posts and the entire border line were attacked almost daily during 1998 and in 1999 by the terrorists of Kosovo Liberation Army, foreign mercenaries and the military of Albania, when the NATO aggression started, the toughest and the bloodiest battles in this region will be fought almost until the end of the war, from May 26th to June 10th. That military operation is known as "arrow", or battle at Pastrik.
Since the offensive over the post Kosare at the beginning of April 1999 didn't give expected results, the area around Pastrik received greater tactical significance. The aim of the aggressor in this sector was to break the border troops of the Yugoslav army, conquering the heights of Pastrik, breaking of the corridor by the river Beli Drim, entering Metohija and cutting off of main traffic roads. This was supposed to enable the delivery of ammunition, weapons, and fresh forces of the Kosovo Liberation Army from Albania.
- They were crossing the border all the time, they attacked, but one morning, early, the fierce attacks started, there were 38 of us or 40 on the post, and at least 2.000 of them, you could see that they were going like ants. Then, there were fierce attacks. The border was mined, first, there were sheep, then cows, then horses, and then the army. Mortars were hitting us, and then cannons. Only 38 of us, but we withstood it. We didn't have any casualties, only wounded.
Apache helicopters destroyed literally everything. Six of our soldiers died on the post Stojanovic. Then there were attacks that lasted day and night. KLA attacks, planes, Albanian army, artillery, I don't know how we slept. We didn't have any replacement, when I entered the trench, I didn't leave for days. I don't know how we slept at all, it was for moments, you sleep a bit, we didn't even take our shoes off for days - said Mitic.
"I HAVE WATCHED A MORTAR GOING RIGHT AT US"
He adds that he and his comrades had no idea about the time, they didn't know what day it was, what time it was, what date it was. The aim was not to allow the enemy to go further, no leaving the trenches. In that six months on the border with Albania, Mitic's family couldn't contact him. Father, mother, and sister didn't know if he was alive.
It was getting worse and worse, when they attacked the airplane position of the Yugoslav Army, there was nothing more they could do "the sky is breaking and the ground is shaking", remembers Slavoljub, the trees and forests were destroyed, they were turned into chopsticks. It was the scariest when the planes B - 52 hit the village Planeja on May 30, dropping carpet bombs. There was real desolation after then, and the soldiers from the trenches were thrown 2 meters in the sky.
Fierce battles lasted to June 5th, and then there was a bit of calm.
I haven't gone to the city from December to June. They somehow convinced me to leave my gun to the friend, because someone has to fill up the spot. I started going, We were supposed to cross a clean area, with an ambulance vehicle, a truck. We have passed that part, they didn't hit us, and we have been driving for around 10 minutes, there were four of the people wounded in that vehicle. When it struck us the truck caught on fire, I started suffocating, it hit us for the second time, and I was already wounded.
"WE KEPT THE LAST BOMB FOR OURSELVES, GOD FORBID IF THEY CATCH YOU ALIVE"
I pushed open the door and I fell out of the truck, a shard has ripped my artery, blood was pouring out, as the heart is beating, it is spraying out all over the place. There is smoke coming out of the truck, I don't know who I was, or where I was. I almost lost an entire hand, I am moving, everybody is dead around me, I say dead, but not everybody, they are crying, moving. Cobi from Leskovac, who was in the cabin of the truck was the only one conscious. He was the only one who survived. I told him, call for help, he took off the scarf from his head, he tied my hand to stop the bleeding, we don't know where we are, we moved to a bush full with thorns...
It is the most dangerous now, we don't know where is the enemy, I don't have a rifle, I don't have anything to defend myself. I have four bombs. In that situation, you will throw a bomb at him, but the last one, you have to keep for yourself, God forbid if they catch you alive - Mitic said.
- The others were still alive when they reached Prizren, but in poor shape, there was a lot of dead. When I looked at Sladja, the nurse, she was missing half of the head, I could see her brain pulsing.
THEY SLEPT NEXT TO THE DEAD FRIEND
Each day on Pastrik is a story on its own, but some situations are special for its cruelty.
- We had a situation when a friend died, we couldn't drop him from Pastrik for three days, so we slept next to him. The feeling is terrible, cold, and he is dead, you are laying next to him and you sleep - said Slavoljub.
Mitic was wounded on June 5th, four days before signing the Kumanovo agreement. He is most sorry because he couldn't stay with his friends until the end, and he is sorry that the soldiers, who were undefeated, had to abandon their position as if they did nothing all those months. Later on, he found his friends in Sijarinska resort, where they were settled after leaving Kosovo and Metohija. They couldn't believe that he was alive, considering that the projectile struck the vehicle with the wounded.
Slavoljub Mitic has been working as a taxi driver for more than 15 years, he is married and he has 2 sons. He receives 5.900 dinars for 30% disability. A lot of humiliations and carelessness of the state happened in the last two decades, from the end of the war. People have accepted the greatest sacrifice, leaving their youth, lives, and dreams for the homeland.
- I am not happy how the state and the society treat us, there was supposed to be some respect towards soldiers, and we have no significance at all. Our sacrifice is not respected, our deeds, no one respects that. After everything you have been through, some people from institutions come and they harass you - Slavoljub Mitic shares his bitter experience.
After failed operation Arrow, Military-Technical agreement was signed in Kumanovo on June 9th, 1999, which marked the stop of NATO actions on Yugoslavia. The members of the Yugoslav army retreated from Kosovo and Metohija after six months of heavy fights. The units from the slopes of Pastrik were the last to leave the territory of Kosovo. Its members have been gathering in the last few years, preserving the memory of the dead friends and elders, from one of the hardest but also the most glorious periods of the Serbian army.
Serbia got its heroes at the end of the 20th century, knights and guards of Kosovo and Metohija borders, whose bravery was best described in a sentence of their commander Bozidar Delic "There is no going back, Serbia is back", said in the most difficult moments during the fights at the border with Albania.
VIDEO: Terrorists, Foreign Legion, NATO went to the posts, but they didn't enter Metohija
(Telegraf.co.uk / Sladjana Tasic)