The “Slavija” transports 3,500 Croatian Refugees from Dubrovnik to Safety

During the five difficult days of the Battle of Dubrovnik from November 8-13, 1991 Croatian forces were forced to abandon their positions above the city at Strinčjer, Bosanka and Srđ. Both sides suffered heavy losses and Croatian defenders were mentally prepared to fight in the streets in order to defend the city.  However, a truce was reached in the afternoon of 13 November and the “Slavija” ferry sailed into the port of Gruž, which was still ablaze since that morning.

The ship served an important role in the Homeland War as thousands of people arrived in Gruž in the morning of 14 November desperately seeking to flee the suffering, fear and unhygienic conditions that created by the enemy’s siege of Dubrovnik.

There were 3500 people aboard the ship when it departed this morning and according to the criteria of the Dubrovnik Municipal Civil Protection Headquarters, refugee women and children from the regions of Konavle, Župa Dubrovačka and other occupied areas of the Dubrovnik municipality who were left homeless when the hotels in which they were temporarily housed were destroyed were the first to be evacuate. They were joined by pregnant women, the wounded, foreign nationals and foreign journalists who decided to leave… members of the European mission also boarded the ship, many of them disappointed with their role thus far in Dubrovnik.

Vedran Benić, Croatian State Television (CST) journalist

The ship, whose capacity is 800 people, sailed through a severe storm to Montenegro with approximately 3,500 passengers aboard. The “Slavija” first had to enter the enemy stronghold of Zelenik where negotiators Ivo Šimunović, Nikola Obuljen and Tonči Bačić of the Dubrovnik Defense Command listened to the offers and demands of the Yugoslav People’s Army (YPA) regarding the future of Dubrovnik. They would unknowingly be pulled out of this very unfavourable situation by the YPA negotiators themselves.

The captain of the battleship Čelebić sat across from me and as soon as we started talking, his first words were ‘You must immediately withdraw from Srđ and Mokošica.’ It dawned on me at that moment that I realized they were not on the Srđ Hill otherwise, of course, they would not have asked for it.

Nikola Obuljen, negotiator for the Republic of Croatia

Upon their return from talks that caused the customary tension, the negotiators from the “Slavija” informed the commander of the defense of Dubrovnik, Nojko Marinović that the enemy had not captured Srđ. Several defenders then ascended Srđ and took up positions in the “Imperial” fortress at the summit. It was an extremely brave undertaking given that the fortress was located between enemy positions at Strinčjera and the village of Bosanka.

Following a night of tension, the “Slavija” set sail for Pula. Although it was supposed to stop in Split along the way, this did not occur as the city was attacked that morning by deadly projectiles during the Battle of the Split Channel. In these dramatic circumstances, two babies, Hrvoje Konsuo and Marino Radić were born on the ship.

We are departing Dubrovnik and it is now certain that births will have to take place on the ship. One of the officers led me to a closet where they kept medical supplies. There I found small sterile compresses, large sterile gauze, non-sterile gloves and small scissors that I sent to the kitchen for sterilization. I asked the staff for as many sheets and towels possible and Dr. Čale was in the cabin to assist me. At 8:55 AM on 15 November 1991, we reached the horn of the Pelješac peninsula and a baby boy was born. He immediately started crying, I bathed him and wrapped him in sheets as there were no diapers…. little Hrvoje Konsuo was born.

Brankica Miškić, midwife

Led by Captain Damir Jovičević, the crew of the “Slavija” successfully brought the ship to Pula on 16 November 1991 under extraordinary circumstances. The ship docked at 12:30 AM and even heavy rain did not prevent the well-prepared people of Pula from greeting the endangered refugees that night. Buses to hotels in Rijeka, Rovinj, Poreč, Buje, Labin and Pula awaited them as well. As they disembarked, the passengers were received by personnel from the Regional Office for Refugees, the Red Cross and the “Wall of Love” organization who provided them hot drinks, cakes and sandwiches.

Cover photo – Left Ljiljana and Marino Radić, right Nina and Hrvoje Konsuo – illustration taken from Oliver Pezo’s book “The Riddle of Victory”

Sources
Literature
Dukovski, Darko; Dukovski, Vedran; Matika, Dario. Istra u Domovinskom ratu 199.-1995.: Model društvene i vojne povijesti. Pula: Istarski ogranak Društva hrvatskih književnika, 2018
Pezo, Oliver. Zagonetka pobjede : velikosrpska agresija na Dubrovnik 1991. godine. Dubrovnik: ArtFORMAT; Zagreb: Hrvatski memorijalno-dokumentacijski centar Domovinskog rata, 2015

Periodicals
Mario Garber: “Umrli i rođeni na ‘Slaviji'” Slobodna Dalmacija (Split),November 16, 1991, 5.

Internet
Opća bolnica Dubrovnik: „Svjedočanstva “Da se ne zaborave devedesete” – Dubrovnik 2018“, access achieved November 10, 2020, https://www.bolnica-du.hr/index.php/component/k2/item/480-svjedocanstva-da-se-ne-zaborave-devedesete-dubrovnik-2018

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