When the first 300 women and children arrived in Medjugore, Bosnia and Herzegovina in early March 2022, their exodus was reminiscent of the 1990s Bosnian War when 2.2. million people fled the country. In the first few weeks of the Ukrainian war, 4 million women and children were forced to leave their homes.
I listened to my instinct so carefully since the conflict began and one Sunday, I went to Medjugorje in hopes to find Ukrainian women there. I spent a whole day there, but found no one. It was so late at night, and I had dragged my friends to come along. Just when I told them that we might have to leave, the very first bus from Ukraine arrived to Medjugorje with 60 women and children. I found them in front of a church, and then we began to hug and cry in each other’s arms. It was a gift I came for.
I was the only photojournalist when they arrived and I did not spread this story just yet. I knew it could backfire. And it did after the local guy who hosted them in his hotel, spread the word, and suddenly the women refused to talk to the media or even foreign delegations who tried to resolve their status here.
The women prayed daily. Despite the fact Medjugorje being a Catholic pilgrimage and that women from Ukraine are Greek-Catholics or Orthodox, the town gave a small chapel to hold a mass in their own language. But their tears spoke of the torture and hardship during each mass. Will they receive a phone call that their husbands and sons are no longer alive? Was someone else in the family killed, tortured, or raped? The locals in Medjugorje did so well hosting and providing services for everyone, but the women could not stop thinking of their husbands left behind.
Europe said “Never again” to torture and rape after the Bosnian war, so the rallies were organized in Bosnia to show solidarity with Ukraine. Still, a month into the Ukrainian war, women in Medjugorje learned about the cases of rape in rural areas of their country, mass graves in their towns, and the cities they escaped, were destroyed or occupied.
Unfortunately, after one month, the man who hosted these women had said that the season starts in Medjugorje in April, and most of the women left the town. Before it’s forgotten that these women sought shelter and peace in Medjugorje, and as much as they received support from the community, it was unjust to just let them go.