Berliner Tageblatt - 'Pay it forward': Bosnians wrap gifts for Ukrainian children

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'Pay it forward': Bosnians wrap gifts for Ukrainian children
'Pay it forward': Bosnians wrap gifts for Ukrainian children / Photo: © AFP

'Pay it forward': Bosnians wrap gifts for Ukrainian children

Inspired by gestures of kindness during the Bosnian conflict in the 1990s, Sarajevo residents have been wrapping up hundreds of New Year gifts to send to Ukrainian children affected by war.

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"Even if these packages seem small to us, it's huge for these children now living in the cold, without the basic necessities," says 34-year-old Mirela Geko.

"I think those who were children during the 1992-1995 Bosnia civil war can understand that."

When she was little during the war, Geko says, she received a parcel from a Bosnian refugee girl in Denmark.

She says it is one of her best memories from the siege of Sarajevo, which started in 1992 and lasted 44 months.

"For a moment, the war stopped for me, everything bad around me disappeared, and I felt like I was at the centre of the world," she said.

"That's exactly what we'd like to achieve" for some Ukrainian children.

In Ukraine, almost 10 months after Russia invaded, many families have been struggling with power and water cuts in bitterly cold temperatures, as Russia pummels the country's infrastructure.

At Sarajevo's War Childhood Museum, piles of multi-coloured parcels line the halls and corridors, waiting to be dispatched to Ukraine and neighbouring Poland, which has welcomed more than one million Ukrainian refugees since February.

Some presents are decorated with the Ukrainian flag.

One bears a note signed by someone called Nejra, wishing the recipient "all the best for the New Year", including love, health, happiness and peace.

Ana Mocnaj, 35, has brought a present for "a 14-year-old girl".

It includes a drawing kit, a necklace, a scarf and hat, chocolates and biscuits, she says.

It is more or less the same parcel she received years ago during the civil war from Marie, a girl in France, she explains. That package had also come with a letter to cheer her up.

"At that time, it was really something for me. I felt I had a friend out there somewhere," says Mocnaj, who now works as a French teacher.

"This is an opportunity to pay it forward."