Along the banks of the Sava

Sgt. Jean-Philippe Lavigne
First published in
SFOR Informer#130, January 17, 2002

For three months now the Russian forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina have been limited to just 600 troops, as opposed to 1,150 previously. Wandering through the northeastern part of the country aboard their armoured personal carriers (APCs), Russian soldiers are taking an active part in SFOR missions that cover remote parts of the country.

Brezovo Polje Selo - Sliding at high speed along muddy country lanes, the Russian APC crosses the snow-covered plains of Brcko District, heading north toward Brezovo Polje Selo along the Sava river, which marks the border with Croatia. An Orthodox church stands in the village and magnifies the place. Reportedly, a rich inhabitant of the village, who sold his land to Bosniacs, built it in 1930. As a consequence, Brezovo Polje Selo is one of the only Bosniac villages in the area, but the war has considerably affected the region's demography.
Among 100 families, who were living there before, only two stayed. According to the Finnish CIMIC team, 47 families expressed their willingness to return to the village. About 25 families will be unable to return, since their homes have been totally destroyed. The major problem is that displaced B-Serb families who moved there during the war are now refusing to leave the village.
It is assumed that about 250 families originating from Vares, Planinica, Zenica, Travnik and Sarajevo are now illegally occupying Bosniac houses. The former owners are thus forced to live as Displaced Persons in Tuzla, Brcko, Jasenica and Srbrenik.
Routine patrol
"This is a routine patrol, explains Capt. Genady Konstantinov. "We show our presence in the sector and try to prevent any problems. Brezovo Polje is a quiet village, and the two communities of the village live in peaceful cohabitation. We have observed only a few quarrels or broken windows, mainly due to alcohol abuses."
The mission begins at the security centre of the village, where local police report on the events of the night. "We have reinforced our patrols, since the Americans have seized an important storage of weapons in the region," explains Cadet Sergei Chudov. "The co-operation with local police, as well as with the International Police Task Force (IPTF), is crucial since we can hardly be present 24 hours a day."
The patrol then separates into two groups before walking through the deserted streets of the village. There are a few shops around, but the region is very poor and the local economy relies on agriculture. Completely isolated, the inhabitants stay cloistered at home under winter weather conditions.
Snowball fight
To their surprise, Konstantinov and his troopers are rapidly followed by a swarm of children. The patrol quickly takes on the look of a happy procession, with the Bosnian kids following in the footsteps of the Russian soldiers. The bravest ones even dare to initiate an enjoyable snowball fight with the peacekeeping forces, while others, more shy, stay away from the battle.
There are more than 200 kids in the village, including 18 Bosniacs. They all attend the school, which has 15 teachers, including two Bosniacs.
Since the beginning of the school year, Brcko District has initiated a multi-ethnic education programme, displayed both in primary schools and in the two first years of secondary schools. The children are mixed in most schools of the district, but are separated for three subjects: language, music and history. Education for their kids is the primary concern of those who intend to return to their pre-war villages.
A glance at the lively crowd assembled around the APC shows that the unknown foreign visitors have unwittingly brought a little bit of life to the village. Their day mission now over, the Russian soldiers embark aboard their large machine under the kids' eyes, which are full of joy and curiosity.

Related links:
Nations of SFOR: Russia
SFOR at Work

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Photos: PO Andy Gegde

A child comes out for a look at the APC.

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The children assault the peacekeeping forces with snowballs.

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Capt. Konstantinov patrols the deserted streets of Brezovo Polje.

The Russian APC travels down the road to Ugljevik.