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At the Anniversary of the Srebrenica Genocide, Lessons from Bosnia and Herzegovina

It was extremely terrible to hear that people 30 years later are going through the same things we went through here in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was very difficult for all of us to watch what's going on with people, particularly with women in Ukraine. It was just so similar and so well-known for us that it really raised the question of how we can help, because a lot of people helped us.

-Seida Saric, Director of Žene za Žene International

July 11 marks the 28-year anniversary since the Srebrenica genocide, the ethnic cleansing in 1995 which claimed the lives of 8,372 Bosniak Muslim men and boys and saw 20,000 forcibly displaced. Today in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the site of the massacre as well as the Bosnian War, signs of war still exist. Recently, our Conflict Response Fund (CRF) partners of Ukraine and Poland visited Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) for a learning opportunity on the Bosnian experience.  

The trip, coordinated by our sister organization Žene za Žene International (ŽzŽ), allowed our CRF partners to understand how they can prepare for the ongoing challenges that can await the women they serve on the difficult road to healing as survivors of severe trauma and sexual violence. As Women for Women International’s (WfWI) partners at The HumanDoc Foundation and The Andreev Foundation toured BiH with Marie Clarke, WfWI’s Chief Programs Officer, they were reminded of their own reality as yet another war rages – this time in their own country. 

“All the people in the world, they should know the truth. people in Ukraine, they struggle for their future, for their children,”

says Iryna Andreev, who co-founded The Andreev Foundation.

We spoke with Kateryna Shukh with Bereginya and The Human Doc Foundation about visiting BiH with Marie, Iryna and other members of our CRF organizations.

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Our CRF Partners and Marie join Seida in a kick-off meeting at ŽzŽ office. Credit: ŽzŽ.

For Kateryna, she says the visit was very difficult on one hand, because everything is very fresh.  

“Personal experiences and stories of the women we work with popped up in my head,” Kateryna says.  

Based in Poland, Bereginya and The HumanDoc Foundation helps women evacuated from the Ukrainian achieve financial independence through vocational training as they rebuild their lives. These women are also supplied with safe housing, psychosocial support through art therapy, and legal counseling to understand their rights as survivors.  

In Ukraine, The Andreev Foundation sends out a team of psychologists to communities previously occupied by Russian soldiers in search of women survivors. Sexual violence remains a pervasive threat against women by roving soldiers, and the foundation works to make sure these women do not navigate the trauma or rape and war on their own by providing psychosocial support. 

With the support of ŽzŽ, who led our response since news of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russian soldiers broke, our CRF makes sure the support these organizations provide for women is possible.  

Kateryna joined the visit in BiH for a better understanding of the challenges women’s rights organizations faced during the country’s reconstruction period, an observation she hoped would serve as a glimpse into the future of her own work. 

“We believe that the history and challenges of Ukrainian and Bosnian women are very similar,” she says. Since Ukraine is in the active phase of the war, she says it is difficult to see what lies ahead for The Human Doc Foundation’s activities. 

The visit, which included tours of the Museum of Crimes Against Humanity and Genocide in Sarajevo and the Childhood War Museum, as well as local women’s associations, Ahmićanke and Trst, was coordinated to serve as a model for organizing and working with women in rural areas for our CRF partners. 

“For us, we really wanted to make sure [they] saw as much as possible, and that we show them different aspects of our work,” says Seida Saric, Director of ŽzŽ.  

Srebrenica 4
Marie meets a former program participant who proudly shows her sponsor letter exchange during that period. Credit: ŽzŽ.

Since its inception, ŽzŽ has an extended history of making healing attainable for women impacted by war and conflict. The organization was one of the first to work in Srebrenica following the massacre, facilitating reconciliation in the community by bringing together women from different ethnic groups into the same room.  

“For many of them, it was the first time [that these women were] in the same room, that they were communicating with the different ethnic groups, either Muslim women who were actually victims of the war or Serbian women who belong to the groups who actually [committed] the genocide,” Seida says. To this day, participants that were in that room still spend time with each other. 

“It was important that peace happens, that reconciliation happens.” 

Kateryna says her team is very inspired to work with partners who understand the essence of the problem without additional explanations. she says. “There was no doubt that it would be very valuable to get to know our partners and other highly experienced Bosnian organizations closer.” 

From her visit, her takeaways included the necessity of approaching the recovery period for women survivors as a multi-level process and the need to emphasize economic empowerment and development for refugee women as a base of their work.  

It is very painful that time goes by, Kateryna says, but wars and violence still occur in the world and it seems people do not learn at all. 

“War is the worst thing that can happen in any country,” she says. “Every day, dozens of people in my country have their lives interrupted, someone dies, they destroy their homes and their entire lives. The war leaves families homeless and confused. It should not be that way in the world.” 

 As a survivor, her visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina reinforced the importance of unity to find strength in the face of war and devastation. And, just as important, to celebrate life.   

“Most of all, I remember when we had a dinner at the final stage of the trip, there was live music in the restaurant and most of the colleagues started dancing,” she says. “One girl from Ukraine refused and said that she would not dance because there was a war in Ukraine. And Seida answered this: “So, we don’t dance. We are celebrating life. We have lived through this day, and it is worth celebrating.” 

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Ou CRF Partners gathering with ŽzŽ staff, local partners, and program participants at the end of the trip. Credit: ŽzŽ.
Woman has arms wrapped around child in her lap
Your donation will help provide women survivors of war a safe space for rehabilitation as well as medical care that includes psychological and gynecological consultations with doctors.