Memorial Centre of Homeland War Vukovar

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    Until 1991, Vukovar was one of the most prosperous cities in the former state. According to the 1990 census, this baroque town, located at the mouth of the Vuka and Danube Rivers, had a population of almost 85,000, and its inhabitants were almost equally Croats and Serbs, with numerous members of national minorities, primarily Hungarians, Slovaks and Ruthenians. However, the siege of Vukovar by the Yugoslavs Peoples Army (JNA) and paramilitary groups at the beginning of the Homeland War changed everything drastically.

    The Battle of Vukovar

    The siege of the city began in August 1991 and lasted 87 days. Only 1,800 members of the Croatian National Guard (ZNG) and volunteers were confronted with the figure of almost 36,000 JNA soldiers and members of paramilitary groups, while up to 12,000 missiles would fell on Vukovar daily. After the fall of the city, on November 18th, ethnic cleansing of the non-Serb population began, with at least 20,000 people expelled and more than a thousand soldiers and civilians, including the wounded from the Vukovar hospital, massacred and killed. Many remain as unaccounted for.

    The siege of Vukovar was the fiercest and longest battle in Europe since the end of World War II. After its fall, Vukovar thus became the first European city to be completely destroyed by war destruction after 1945.

    The defence and fall of the city on the Danube River have a special place in the collective consciousness of Croatian citizens, the shocking footages of the destruction and massacres that went around the world have appalled the public. Even today, almost thirty years since the unfortunate events, the fate of many Vukovar residents is uncertain, and the city, which is being continuously renewed, is trying to preserve its always fragile peace.

    Memorial locations of the City of Vukovar preserved by the Public Institution Memorial Centre of the Homeland War in Vukovar

    In order to preserve the memory of the events for the next generations, a special decree of the Government of the Republic of Croatia established the Public Institution Memorial Centre of the Homeland War in Vukovar in 2013. The main mission of the institution is to preserve the memory of the Homeland War and the Battle of Vukovar through memorial, educational, scientific, tourist and international activities.

    The institution manages several memorial sites in Vukovar and its surroundings: The Monument Square of Ovčara Victims, Ovčara Mass Grave, The Memorial House Ovčara, The Memorial House of Croatian War Veterans at Trpinjska Street, Velepromet Hangars, Warriors House Lužac , Lušac Cross , The Central Cross, The Memorial Mark Bogdanovci, The Memorial House The Path of Salvation Corn Road, The Memorial Mark Sotin-Skedra, Monument to 12 Policemen in the Village of Borovo, the Memorial Mark of the Mass Grave in Nova Street and the Memorial Cemetery of the Victims of Homeland War.

    Foto: Phralipen.hr

    Special attention is paid to marking important dates, managing and maintaining facilities, collecting and preserving artefacts from the Homeland War, preparing and equipping a permanent thematic exhibition, arranging and equipping memorials, and revitalizing and modernizing already installed exterior and interior exhibits. Within the Memorial Centre, it is possible to visit several exhibitions or reconstructions of locations such as the exhibition “The Battle of Vukovar” and the exhibition of infantry weapons used in the Homeland War and the reconstruction of Serbian concentration camps “Stajićevo” and “Begejci”.

    As a visit to Vukovar is one of the school curriculum activities for the eighth-graders they come to a one-day or a two-day field trip and visit the premises of the Memorial Centre and there is also a “Dubrovnik” Hostel. In addition to visiting locations related to the Homeland War itself, eighth-graders often visit other attractive locations in the city, such as the Vukovar museums or the mouth of the Vuka River.

    The centre itself, its administrative and administrative part, as well as the above mentioned “Dubrovnik” Hostel are located in the former barracks of the 204th Vukovar Brigade. Inside the barracks, visitors can tour several indoor and outdoor exhibitions.

    Prominent locations as symbol of remembrance

    Memorial Cemetery of the Victims of Homeland War

    After the fall of the City, the bodies of countless civilian and military victims covered the streets, houses and yards of Vukovar. They were taken out of town and buried in a pit dug near the town cemetery, which became the largest mass grave in Croatia after World War II. Upon the peaceful reintegration, 938 bodies were exhumed, and the tomb site itself is today marked with 938 white crosses. The Memorial Cemetery itself stretches around the tomb, divided into alleys in which the fallen veterans, civilian victims, deceased Croatian war invalids and members of their families are buried.

    In the central part of the cemetery, there is a monument by the sculptor Đurđa Ostoja, made of patinated bronze in the shape of a cross while in the centre of its base there is the eternal flame. The cross is a place for laying wreaths and paying homage to the victims. In addition to the cemetery central monument, two crosses have been singled out, one for the youngest victim of the Homeland War, a boy who was only six months old, and for the oldest victim of the Homeland War, a woman who was 82 years old.

    The Memorial House Ovčara and Ovčara Mass Grave

    After the fall of Vukovar, the army occupied the Vukovar hospital as well, from which 265 veterans and civilians were taken five kilometres southeast of the city to the Ovčara farm. The farm hangar, which until the war served as a warehouse for VUPIK agricultural machinery, was turned into a camp for non-Serbs in September 1991. Hospital prisoners were deprived of their personal belongings and valuables and subjected to torture. Those who survived beatings and torture were taken in the evening and at night to a location a kilometre away, where they were killed in the middle of a field and buried in a pit. After the war, 200 bodies were found in it.

    In 2006, the Memorial House Ovčara was opened on the site of the hangar, the construction of which was co-financed by the City of Zagreb. The original doors of the hangar have been preserved, but they have been poured with cement into the floor construction so that they cannot be closed, which symbolically shows the desire to preserve the memory of the victims. In the middle of this 300 squared meters space there is a spiral whose centre contains the “eternal light” with a holographical image projecting the names of the killed. 261 star-shaped lights were installed in the ceiling, one in memory of each victim. On the walls of the hangar there are photographs of the killed and missing who alternately appear and disappear, while on the floor in front of the walls there is a space containing personal belongings that helped identify the victims.

    At the very place of their execution, there is the Memorial House Ovčara, where a monument by the sculptor Slavomir Drinković has been erected. It is a grey monolith with a dove. The tomb itself is marked with two hundred planted bushes, one bush for each victim, evoking its dimensions. In front of the tomb there is a memorial plaque and a cross.

    The Place of Memory – Vukovar Hospital 1991

    Despite the rules of the Geneva Conventions, Vukovar Hospital had been aggressors target  since the beginning of the shelling of Vukovar. While the wounded were taken care of day and night, difficult operations were performed, children were born, up to 700 projectiles fell on the hospital every day. Just before the end of the occupation, a large number of civilians sought refuge in the hospital, because the hospital had an atomic shelter.

    After the fall of Vukovar, over 260 wounded and sick people were taken from the hospital, including 20 members of the medical staff, who were executed in Ovčara.

    Today, part of the basement and the atomic shelter of the hospital have been turned into a permanent exhibition “The Place of Memory – Vukovar Hospital”. The exhibition tries to evoke the hopeless atmosphere that prevailed before the fall of Vukovar, when doctors were saving lives until the last moment with superhuman efforts. One of the rooms of the atomic shelter has been turned into a “silent memorial room”. Along with the projection of the eternal candle flame, there is a prevailing sound of the names of the wounded and sick taken to Ovčara pronounced in the background of the room.

    The Water Tower

    One of the symbols of the city, the Vukovar water tower was built in the late 1960s in the  Mitnica neighbourhood. 50 meters high and with a volume of 2200 cubic meters of water, it was one of the largest buildings of this type in Europe in terms of volume. Until the war, there was a restaurant at the top of the Water Tower with a belvedere to Vukovar, the Danube River and Syrmia region. During the war it was one of the most common targets of enemy artillery and was directly hit more than 600 times. But it remained standing. During the siege, the defenders of Vukovar raised the Croatian flag to the top of the water tower again, and it became a symbol of resistance to the aggressor.

    According to the plans, the water tower should be preserved on the outside, which means that its current condition would be preserved, while its interior should be put into service  bringing life and future to it. A former restaurant together with the belvedere on a rotating surface should also be put into operation in order to provide visitors with a unique view of Osijek, Ilok, Syrmia and Bačka. This largest infrastructure project in Vukovar-Syrmia County should be completed by the end of 2020.

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