Al Jazeera World

Women of Krusha

The story of how the women of a Kosovan village rebuilt their lives after many of their men were killed in 1999.

Filmmaker: Ensar Altay 

In southwest Kosovo, on the banks of the River Drin, lies the village of Little Krusha. In 1999 it was part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia with a population of around 1,000, both Albanian and Serbian.

According to witnesses like Marte Prekpalaj, what happened in Little Krusha on March 25, 1999, not only decimated the village’s male population but was one of the most violent incidents of the 16-month Kosovo War. 

Women from Krusha have shown enormous resilience fighting against the odds to keep going in the absence of their beloved brothers, fathers and husbands … They've raised their kids with little support while healing the wounds of war.

by Marte Prekpalaj, of Visionary Women of the 21st Century, who helped the women of Little Krusha escape after the massacre

Over 100 men, including boys as young as 12 – all ethnic Albanians – were rounded up and killed in a raid by Serbian police, one day after the first NATO air strikes began. Eighty-two women were widowed and many children became fatherless.

The women were forced to flee, first making a dangerous river crossing and then seeking refuge in neighbouring Albania, like hundreds of thousands of other ethnic Kosovar Albanians, until the war was over. 

“When we came back, the village was unrecognisable. Everything was burned and had to be rebuilt,” says Akile Zylfiu, one of the women whose husbands were killed. She fled with her baby daughter, Bahrije, who is now a young woman preparing to go to university.

In the wake of their desperate loss, the women of Little Krusha embarked on an extraordinary journey of empowerment and rebirth.

Women of Krusha tells the powerful story of the village’s women who returned to their homes to rebuild their houses, their businesses and their lives.

Zylfiu and her friends tell the story of how, without their loved ones, they had to become farmers in order to earn a living and support their families, learning to do work traditionally done by their men.

They mourn their loss and will always remember the men and boys they can never bring back. But the women have also partly overcome their tragedy by finding the strength to pick up the pieces, support one another, survive and succeed.