“… People were moaning, crying. There was shooting … They took away the people they wanted … that is what happened to me too. ”
Witness E (he testified with his name and identity withheld from the public), a Croatian man from Vukovar, in his testimony describes the escalating tension across the region, the Serb siege and fall of the city, and his internment in various detention facilities. Witness E’s son did not survive the war. He testified on 3 February 1998 in the case against Slavko Dokmanović.
“ They believed that they would be evacuated from there – as an agreement allegedly stated - and, as Witness E testified, 'believed that if there were more people, if there was a mass of people our chances were better, I mean our chances of survival…' ”
Suddenly, “without any prior warning or any kind of notice,” in July, 1991 the JNA (the Yugoslav People’s Army) began shelling Vukovar, causing panic throughout the city. Eventually, Vukovar was besieged on all sides and there was no way out. Witness E remembers that, at this point, conditions in the city became very difficult as there was no electricity and very little food, “so that people were having difficulties in their attempt to survive during the siege.”
The shelling was nearly constant, so Witness E and his wife took shelter in the basement of a big building across the street from the Vukovar hospital, where roughly 60 people of both Serbian and Croatian origin were gathered. They lived there for nearly two and a half months, until the fall of the city.
Around the middle of November 1991, Witness E learned that a surrender agreement had been reached between the JNA and the city of Vukovar so that, “all people, including the military and the police, would be allowed to leave the town of Vukovar and go wherever anyone wanted to go.” He estimated that at the time there were some 10-12,000 civilians in the town.
At this point, Witness E, along with several of the other people he had been sheltering with, went to the Vukovar hospital. They believed that they would be evacuated from there – as an agreement allegedly stated - and, as Witness E testified, “believed that if there were more people, if there was a mass of people our chances were better, I mean our chances of survival…” When they arrived, there were already “masses of people from all the shelters that were nearby in the centre of the town of Vukovar.” Witness E remembers that people were particularly afraid of surrendering to the paramilitary units, commonly known as the Chetniks, because they were rumored to have committed terrible atrocities in the villages that had fallen before Vukovar. They put their trust in the regular army, as they believed that they “would be protected by the then Yugoslav People's Army.”
That same day at around five in the evening, JNA officers in camouflage uniforms arrived at the Vukovar hospital. One of them introduced himself as Major Veselin Šljivančanin and told the people gathered there: “From now on you are going to obey my orders.” He told them they would be transported to a collection center at the Velepromet warehouse, in Vukovar. He said they would take the women, the children, and the very old people first, and then everybody else. When Witness E heard this, he knew that the agreement on evacuation was not to be observed.
Witness E was then transported in a military truck to the yard of the Vupik enterprise, just across the street from the Velepromet storage facilities.
When they arrived Witness E saw that the yard was full of evacuees who had been brought in from all over Vukovar. Witness E also recognized several people from Vukovar, some of whom he knew to be ethnic Serbs, dressed in paramilitary uniforms of olive green and grey camouflage. Apart from the drivers of the trucks that had brought them there, Witness E saw no other regular JNA soldiers – only paramilitaries.
Witness E testified that: “There was general confusion, general chaos. People were moaning, crying. There was shooting … They had torch lamps and they went from one person to another. They took away the people they wanted to take away… People were being taken away, beaten, in a way, maltreated in every possible way.”
Witness E himself was taken away by a man he recognized as Darko Fot, a Vukovar resident with whom Witness E had gone hunting in the past. Witness E was made to stand near a big wall. He asked Mr. Fot what was happening, but Mr. Fot would not tell him anything, saying only “You will find out in good time.” As they were standing there in a group, again some people came with torches and led away several of them.
“ He told them: 'At 9:30 you are all going to be executed.' Then he closed the door and left. In shock, Witness E remembered: 'After that we all fell silent.' ”
Some time later, Witness E was also taken away again, this time by a man he recognized as Mićo Danković, a former waiter from Vukovar. A former Croatian policeman named Mr. Blašković was standing near Witness E at this time. Mr. Danković took Mr. Blašković away, saying he had things to settle with him from the past. Witness E testified that he saw him hit Mr. Blašković with his rifle: “he hit him on the face, and he cut his entire face that way.” After that, he took Mr. Blašković away and Witness E did not see him again.
After some time had passed, a third man, named Boro Sujanović, came and took Witness E and his friend called Jurica away again, saying: “You belong to me.” When Witness E asked where he was taking them he warned them: “There is going to be a mess here tonight".
He took Witness E to the Velepromet facility, to what looked like a carpentry workshop. There was a tall man in camouflage uniform there. He made Witness E put his bag and his coat onto a big pile of clothing. Then he took Witness E’s wallet, took out the money which he added to a pile of money on a table, then threw Witness E’s ID and wallet under the table. When Witness E asked if he could have his ID back, the man refused, saying “You will never need that again.” He ordered Witness E to stand against the wall, from where he watched the same procedure repeated on his friend, Jurica. Then the tall man pushed both prisoners into a small dark room, kicking Jurica in the backside and closing the door on them.
When their eyes adjusted to the darkness, they could see that the small room was full of people, many of whom Witness E recognized as residents of Vukovar, including a market inspector, a physician from the hospital, Dr. Nadas, a post office employee, and many others.
Soon after, they heard gunfire outside the building where they were being held. Suddenly, the door to their room was pushed open and a young man was thrust in: he had been shot twice in the legs and was bleeding profusely. Dr. Nadas and Witness E did their best to try to stop the bleeding but they were unsuccessful. Witness E began pounding on the door, calling for help. Some paramilitary guards came in and took the young man away for medical treatment. Some time later, he was returned to the room with both legs well bandaged.
About half an hour later, a young man with a blond beard suddenly opened the door. He was obviously drunk and had a bottle in one hand and an automatic rifle in the other. He told them: “At 9:30 you are all going to be executed.” Then he closed the door and left. In shock, Witness E remembered: “After that we all fell silent.”
Around 9:30 p.m., the door opened. Witness E said “Our fear peaked…” Instead of the bearded young soldier, however, it was a JNA officer accompanied by two soldiers in green and grey uniforms. “At first, we thought that this was a firing squad,” testified Witness E. Instead, the officer addressed them respectfully as “people” instead of the derogatory “Ustasha” that the paramilitaries had used. He told them to go to a bus outside in pairs, with their heads down. He promised that nothing would happen to them and instructed his soldiers to shoot anyone who tried to approach them.
Outside, as they made their way to the bus, they were surrounded by people shouting “Kill Ustasha, do not take them anywhere.” Protected by the soldiers, they made it to the bus safely. There were seven or eight more buses full of people. They went to Serbia, to a detention camp in Stajićevo and then to Sremska Mitrovica. Witness E was there held until his release in a prisoner exchange on 23 March 1992.