I met Mira at her home in Limassol, in 2013. The interview was arranged late in the afternoon and, despite the long day she had at work, she was more than warm and hospitable. When I left her house, a few hours later, I was a changed person. Her story is a story of courage, a strong reminder for me, in many ways. I come from a family of refugees. When I was seven years old, my father took me and mom to the Green Line, near Derinhia, Cyprus--an imaginative ''green'' line that separates the occupied by military North from the South, where my parents along with thousands of Cypriots sought refuge in 1974, the year that Turkey invaded our island. We got out of the car. My father pointed his finger to the north and said: ''Maria, somewhere behind those buildings is your father's home, and near that is your mother's village--and a piece of our souls which we were forced to leave behind in 1974''. His eyes then became two sad lakes. His voice was drowned in the tears he was trying to hold back. I could not understand much about borders, refugees and war back then, but I understood and felt the bitterness, the sorrow and the nostalgia I saw in their eyes. When we got in the car to drive back to Limassol, where my parents, both internal refugees from Famagusta and Ashia had restarted their lives, his hand mismanaged the wheel, turning the car to a 180o angle... Dust surrounded us. He did not stop; he carried on driving as if someone was chasing us. I turned around to look in the direction of their homes again, but all I could see was dust. Years went by, and I grew up into a woman who chose to become a journalist in order to convey all the messages and stories that need to be heard. Despite religious, ethnic, or any other differences, every person can find at least one thing to identify with in someone else's story. Refugees' stories are stories of people who were forced to leave their homelands in search of survival, security and freedom. Some stories are drowned in oceans. Some stories have better endings. Mira's story is one of them...
I was born and raised in Bosnia. My family was neither poor nor rich. My childhood was full of love, we were happy. I was blessed to be able to finish college and earn a degree in economics.
I met my husband in an early age and we got married when I was only 19. Those were the most carefree years of my life. We were blessed with two daughters, I was working for a well-established cooperation as an accountant, and we even managed to buy a house of our own without having to get a bank loan. The economic environment in my country was good, at least that is how we perceived it to be. So we had our dreams. We were still ''allowed'' to dream you see... Those were peaceful and blessed years. We could not imagine…
In 1990, when peace was threatened in the area starting with Slovenia, and then Croatia, things started getting darker and darker until everything collapsed. Our whole world collapsed. By 1992, the war was part of our reality, and that reality is one I do not want to experience again. Death, extreme poverty, fear and hopelessness composed that reality. Somehow, nobody expected the war.
People can never really be “prepared” for the outcomes of a war, and no one really asks you if you want to go to war, the “big guys” just play their power games and you pay with your life. Bombardments started by organised groups, but there were rumours that it was “funded” by “someone” – the US maybe? Neither of the populations, be it Orthodox or Muslims, wanted, in their majority, a war. They imposed the war on us. We were coexisting peacefully until then-at least in my area. When things started going down we had salary cuts and delays of payment, then people were fired, companies were closing down… In the neighbourhoods fear was present all of a sudden. And fear brings anger and conflicts, when combined with the rest of the social and psychological downfall. Rage became part of our environment. Bombing attacks, death, and insecurity followed. And stayed for many years.
In April 1992 I really felt we were in extreme danger. Bosnia was deep in war, Muslims started attacking Christians in the villages. We had to leave our village, so we first went to Serbia for a while to protect our family. We were living in camps. We hoped that things would settle, so we returned back to our village. But the situation was not any better. In 18th May they’ve put us in buses - in a caravan of buses. They told us that we had to leave our village again and go to Serbia to save our lives.
Women and children left with those buses. Men were not allowed to cross the borders. My husband was in the army and that day was the last time my two daughters, six and four years old, saw their father. My husband, their daddy, had been killed at the battle field. How would I tell my children?
We stayed in Serbia for some months and we returned back to Bosnia - not to our house, but at least in our country. We had no money, no job, and for one year we had no electricity either. In September, they attacked our village and killed my mother, my father, my uncles, my cousins… My whole family. And then I collapsed into depression, waking up in the morning only to provide food and comfort to my daughters. I did not want to live anymore, until one day this good woman, a doctor, visited me and she said: “Mira, you have two children, stand up, take your medicine and fight to raise them and make them proud of you”. So I “woke up” and I fought for our survival.
We stayed in Bosnia until 1997. Life was extremely hard, full of insecurity, we could not see any glimpse of hope. We could not remember even what free life really felt like.
In 1993 Greek families started receiving children to stay with them for six months or so. Greece and Cyprus were our angels, they helped us extremely, in many ways, during our nightmare. My daughter went to stay with a family there. It was a first glimpse of hope and happiness for her. Six months can not change anything you might think, but it does! It made my children see that another life is possible. When the Greek family, God bless them, invited me to visit them for a week as well, it made me remember how peaceful life actually feels like. It made me consider that a better life is possible, that it exists somewhere!
Those visits helped me and my second husband, who also had a child, a son, take a bold decision: to seek refuge to another country to raise our children in an environment every child deserves. We united our families and started dreaming of a better and safer life.
So in 1997 we managed to actually do it. We didn’t need a visa for Cyprus, so we took our children and flew to the island packing only some clothes and lots of hope for a better life. We found a small apartment to rent and worked hard in helping in kitchens and cleaning houses. Two years afterwards, I was recognised as an international refugee by the Asylum Service of Cyprus. It was a brand new life, still hard, but much better, safer and full of hope for our future.
We worked hard and we‘ve managed to send all of our children to university in Greece. Cypriots treated us well in general. But difficulties did occur. We still haven’t received Cypriot citizenship, unfortunately, but we do consider this island to be our home. It gave us a new life and we are very grateful.
I experienced war, loss, fear, bomb attacks terror, poverty, hopelessness, but I was a fighter. With God’s help, and the help of good people and international protection laws I created a new life. A better life is possible for a person who does not give up.
Never give up.
*As told to Maria Louvari for LEGACY magazine, issue 2, 2013. Photo of Mira Kovacevic by Antonis Georgiadis www.georgiadisphotography.com for LEGACY magazine.