The Occupation of Kijevo – The Surrounded, Heroic Village that for Months resisted Yugoslav Army and Rebel Serb Aggression

After months of siege, rebel Serbs and the Yugoslav People’s Army (YPA) completely occupied Kijevo, the largest ethnically Croatian village in the former Knin municipality on 26 August 1991.

Militant Serb rebels heightened tensions shortly after Croatia’s first democratic multi-party elections in 1990 which were won by the Croatian Democratic Union (CDU). Kijevo, a village located on the Knin-Vrlika road, was almost completely inhabited by Croats and suddenly found itself under blockade by Serbs from the neighbouring villages of Civljane and Polača. On 27 August 1991 Croatian police broke through the blockade during the night and established a police station in Kijevo. The YPA then became involved in the conflict and deployed between Civljane and Vrlika as well as Kijevo and Polača. This became known as the so-called “buffer zone”.

Since then, any communication between of the inhabitants of Kijevo and Croatia flowed over the Kozjak Hill. Delivery of humanitarian aid was blocked and various attempts were made to discourage Kijevo residents, such as preventing evacuation of pregnant women and the seriously ill. Despite this, a referendum on independence was held in Kijevo in which 100% support was given in favour of Croatian independence. The village remained under blockade all summer. In late August Milan Martić, the Minister of the Interior of the so-called “Serbian Autonomous Region (SAR) of Krajina” gave an ultimatum for the Croatian forces to withdraw from Kijevo. As the Croats did not comply, Kijevo and nearby Vrlika were attacked on 25 August by insurgent Serbs and the YPA with all available means at their disposal.

Vrlika was occupied that same day and when it became evident that the poorly armed defenders of Kijevo would not be able to repel the onslaught, a general evacuation across Kozjak Hill to Maovice and Drniš took place the next day. Kijevo’s defenses, which consisted of approximately 160 people armed mostly with Kalashnikov machine guns began to falter on 26 August. The enemy opened fire on the village with heavy machine guns, mortars, howitzers, tanks, multi-barrel rocket launchers and at around 11:30 AM YPA fighter jets pelted Kijevo with cluster bombs that were prohibited under international military conventions.

Most of Kijevo’s defenders retreated towards the Dinara Mountains where they would remain for 14 days after the fall of their village. Seventy members of the Kijevo’s defense forces, most of whom were police officers or members of the 4th Guard Brigade, were captured during the battle and placed in a prisoner of war camp. A large amount of elderly and infirm people remained in the village and they experienced brutal harassment by the rebel Serbs. Kijevo’s suffering was unknown for four years and it was not until its liberation during Operation “STORM” in August of 1995 that the horrors of Serbian occupation were revealed. After the village was completely looted, only family houses and farm buildings remained. The Roman Catholic church was demolished to its foundation and not even the local school or ambulance were spared from destruction.

Sources
Kijevo.hr: “Domovinski rat”, accessed on August 26, 2020, http://www.kijevo.hr/povijest/domovinski-rat/
Leona Slatković Harčević: “Gradovi i mjesta u Domovinskom ratu: Kijevo”, accessed on August 26, 2020, https://braniteljski.hr/gradovi-i-mjesta-u-domovinskom-ratu-kijevo/

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