To mark the 20th anniversary of the 1992-1995 Bosnian war, Joanna Morris travelled to Bosnia with charity, Remembering Srebrenica, to hear the haunting stories of those who survived ‘the worst genocide since the Holocaust’

“We were not an army, we were foolish teenagers who knew nothing about war – five of us shared one rifle and we defended our country with our hearts...”

Resad Trbonja was an ordinary teenager before the Siege of Sarajevo changed him forever.

The longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare lasted 1,425 days and killed 13,952 people, including 2,000 children.

Between April 5 1992 and February 29 1996, an army of Bosnian Serbs – intent on creating a territory of their own, free from Bosniak Muslims and Croats – encircled Sarajevo, stationing 13,000 soldiers in the surrounding hills.

Poorly equipped and unable to break the siege, Sarajevo’s people fought desperately to defend themselves against shelling, starvation and the loss of everything they knew.

“On April 6 1992, I was 19 and would have blended into any society,” says Resad.

“I listened to The Clash and wore Converse with my Levis –I’d have fitted in anywhere.

“Within a week, I went from a foolish teenager to a soldier.

“We went back two centuries, everything we took for granted was gone.

“No light, no gas, no water – schools, phones, transport, industry, nothing existed as of that moment.

“As you learned to use PCs, we learned to live by candlelight again.”

Those trapped in the city – its defenders, its old, its young, its ill, its stubborn – saw Sarajevo quickly become a war zone.

News crews followed besieged Bosnians running through their streets, weaving desperately to avoid snipers, rarely succeeding.

Bodies piled up as the siege took hold before the cameras - an elderly man dead beside two loaves of bread, blood pooled around the head of a tiny boy, the bullet-riddled man with half of his head missing, pregnant women sprawled in the street.

“In one day, Sarajevo became a Mad Max film, everything was gone and on top of that, we were being brutally killed - every second of the day, death was there and nowhere was safe,” Resad says.

“Nothing was sacred to those idiots in the hills, whether it was children, pregnant women or elderly people.”

Desperate to protect their families, Sarajevo’s men picked up their weapons – often homemade, with little ammunition – and went to war.

Starving, exhausted, in rags, they battled on the frontline for six days and returned to the city to protect their families for two.

“We had to do it, there was nobody else,” says Resad, whose military training came from Rambo films.

“If you saw my platoon, you’d think we’d escaped from a mental institution, this was the Bosnian army.

“I had an AK47 with three bullets in it – the magazine takes 30 – and there were five of us idiots, nothing but idiots, with 16 bullets facing the fourth biggest military power in Europe.

“We weren’t allowed to shoot unless we were sure he would kill you unless you killed him first.”

Returning home, they joined their families, hunting for sustenance as the city fought to survive.

“We were stubborn and set about making our lives as normal as possible, we opened schools in our basements.

“Teachers would come to children because it was more acceptable for one teacher to die getting to school than ten kids.”

Desperately hungry, people died gathering humanitarian aid dropped in the dead of night, crushed as crates fell from the sky.

They burned car tyres for warmth, scrabbled for water “like animals at an oasis” and exchanged blood for food.

“Demand for blood in the hospitals was enormous and every time you gave it, they’d give you a tin of beef.

“I would return the next day to give my other arm – these cans fed us when aid didn’t come.”

In 1993, the Bosniaks built a secret tunnel connecting two neighbourhoods – one inside siege lines, one without.

The Tunnel of Hope, just 1.6m high and 0.8m wide, allowed men to fill up 30kg backpacks with food, to drag supplies, including goats - “worth a million” - from one side to another.

“The first time I went through, water was up to my hips, it was like snorkelling and we were like rats but it meant hope and building it by hand took an effort equal to the Egyptian pyramids.”

Ceasefires were especially dangerous, Resad says: “In February 1994, it snowed during a ceasefire – how do you tell a kid he can’t go out and play when he knows there’s no shooting?

“During the siege Sarajevo was colourless and apocalyptic but looked magical in the snow.

“Kids came out with their sleds and a grenade went off - the blood of children has a different texture on white snow and it’s something that stays with you.”

These images, defining the Siege of Sarajevo, were broadcast daily yet lessons have not been learned, says Resad.

Bosnia in 1992 was just like England, he says, a multicultural melting pot with pockets of intolerance that grew rapidly.

“Never again”, he pleads, urging people to live with their neighbours, not alongside them.

“Nothing is worth killing for or dying over – would you rather have a homeland with nobody to share it with because they’re all dead or live anywhere else in the world with your family around you?”

Part two to follow