Home  |   Contact  |   Latinica  |   Ћирилица  |   English  

We’re Playing for Igor

We Serbs have a remarkable talent: "Quick to forget our history and our heroes."

So it was in our history, and why would it be different now?

2011 saw the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the war which culminated in the final dissolution of both the first Kingdom of Yugoslavia and Tito’s later “fraternal” Yugoslavia.

No war is “nice” because war is in itself, evil.  Many Serbs were forced to bear arms to defend home and family, holy shrine and motherland, indeed human dignity itself to prevent a repeat of World War II.

When the war started in 1991, I was far from the homeland, in San Jose, California. At the beginning of the war in Krajina our Church in America had been actively involved in charitable work which was blessed Patriarch Pavle. Our parish in Saratoga sought to alleviate the suffering of our people by establishing the “Krajina” Fund in July 1991 through which we provided monetary funds, containers with various goods, food, clothing, medicine, medical equipment, etc to the “Čelokoljublje” Fund.

However, thanks to my Roman Catholic “counterpart” in San Jose, Fra Bono Prcela (the Roman Catholic priest of the Croatian parish) the war was relocated to California. It started with verbal attacks on me, through the media (newspapers, radio, TV …).  It continued in a more sinister fashion with threats to my life, my family, a tail on my car and culminated in sending 16 American-born Croats to fight with Ustaša formation Dobrosava Parage against Serbs in Krajina.

This led to the involvement of the FBI  (two agents were dispatched from San Francisco) with a mission to prevent further harm. This lasted until the fall of Krajina in early August 1995.
Meeting Igor, the Blind Serbian Fighter

One of the activities of the “Krajina” Fund was to visit the warzone and see firsthand the needs of our soldiers on the frontline, the wounded, widows and war orphans.   That way, we would send the most needed provisions and be sure they arrived with the help and organisation of the local Kolo Srpskih Sestara.

During one such visit with my wife Seka to the Serbian wartime capital of Pale in the spring of 1993, we heard from Ms Ljiljana Nesković, the then president of the Kolo Srpskih Sestara, who was actively raising funds for an operation that it was hoped would cure blind Serbian fighter Igor Vukašinović now in Rome, Italy.

We learned that he had been hit by a sniper’s bullet which passed through his head but that he had miraculously survived.  Like the story of doubting Thomas, it took an hour to dispel my disbelief while Igor’s father was brought to the home Bogdan Vukadin, our domaćin family.

Igor, then aged 24, had a burning desire to see again.  So our “Krajina” Fund was enlisted and eventually paid for all three of Igor’s operations to implant artificial eyes in Rome.  We even arranged for a radio by his hospital bed in Rome to receive Serbian radio direct from Los Angeles.

Unfortunately, after several months, his body rejected the foreign body (the artificial eye) and our high hopes were dashed.

Igor was forced again to find meaning to his life which he managed, thanks to his faith in God, and care and support from his parents and good people. However, even today some 19 years after being wounded, Igor has not lost hope that he will one day be able to see again.  Now he has married and started a family, with two beautiful girls.

In the meantime, Igor visited both America and Russia in search of treatment.

Sadly, Igor was not the only blind fighter I met during the war.

Our “Krajina” Fund had a specific purpose; the care of Serbian wounded soldiers.  Some of those who came to America had facial injuries or had lost arms or legs.  And there was another blind soldier Danko Todorović.

My Reunion with Igor

At Sretenje Gospodnje in 2007, I took an active part in the celebration of the 15th anniversary of the “New Sarajevo” Četnik Unit in Lukavica, Serbian Sarajevo.  The unit was established in 1992, Sretenje Gospodnje by Vojvoda Slavko Aleksić, and as its commander he spent the war holding the position at the Jewish cemetery, successfully defending Srbska Grbavica.

At the end of the war (in the spring of 1996) at the stroke of a pen, Slobodan Milošević tragically gave up Serbian lands including Serbian Sarajevo.  This meant Vojvoda Slavko was now at the head of yet another column of refugees holding a wooden cross at the head of the procession that had been blessed by Serbian Patriarch Pavle and Russian Alexei II.  Now some 102 mosques delineate Sarajevo, with several more under construction. Today Sarajevo is above all an Islamic city.

On this occasion, I met with Igor again and realized that he still had lost neither hope nor the desire to see again after all these years. And now with yet another reason, to see his two beautiful daughters. So our friendship was rekindled.

Idea of Charity Football Tournament

There is a saying which translates well: ‘out of sight, out of mind’. While there was war, it was much easier to stir people’s compassion to help those who were disadvantaged, especially the victims of war. Today, with the passing of time and distance it is so much harder. Whilst many believe the war is over (and thank God it is, at least for now …) but what of the thousands who some term as “collateral damage”, the suffering of our brothers and sisters who were left crippled or blinded … are they, at least remembered in prayer?  As Igor said whilst preparing for his documentary film, “Our wounds would have been more bearable had someone enquired after us!”

Igor asked me for help once more. I thought about how we could help, so the idea or a charity football tournament was born called “We’re Playing for Igor”.   This way we could not only support Igor financially, but (perhaps more importantly) show that we do not forget our veteran heroes who, like him, gave up their eyesight in defense of their Serbian fatherland.

From experience I know that ideas, no matter how good, cannot come to fruition without thorough organisation and motivated people.  So I presented this idea to my friend, the Secretary of the Četnik Movement for England Boško Zecević, to hear his opinion.  I had not expected his response, “no problem Proto, we can do it…we will do it… “.  With his answer I obtained his personal support and that of the Četnik Movement, without which none of this would be possible and for which I am immensely grateful.

The two of us led the organising committee.  We printed leaflets and publicized (via Srbija, Britić, web…).  We rented a football pitch, found sponsors and the Četnik Club Tromeđa kindly offered their rooms.

Igor himself was thrilled with the idea and offered to help in any way he could.

Documentary Film “Lest we forget”

It is difficult to ask for money for someone unseen by anyone except myself.  Our people have a good deal of doubting Thomas about us and might question whether Igor even exists.  Our first idea was to bring Igor in personally for the occasion, but he would need someone to accompany him and then there were other expenses like visas which we wanted to avoid.

So we decided it would be best to shoot a documentary about Igor’s story and hold its premiere at the tournament dinner. Hiring a professional team to produce the film could have proved equally expensive.
Anyway, we started the project.  I was on vacation in Serbia in September and took a few days off to concentrate on this enterprise.  I travelled to Pale and presented the plan to Igor who agreed. With God’s help we came into contact with the owner of a company “Euro Marketing” in Pale, Željko Ninkov, who gladly accepted the mission to produce this documentary free of charge. This, he said, would be their modest contribution to help their fellow citizen, blind Serbian fighter Igor. God looked upon us as we started filming.  We had the help of a very capable cameraman Vanja (who had worked for many years worked for TV Republike Srpske).  The shoot took three days.  An especially significant location (for me at least, and one can only imagine how Igor felt) was to Dobrinja (in Sarajevo).  This is where Igor was shot by a Muslim sniper. The sniper was actually a woman, who was arrested three weeks after shooting Igor by Serbian forces.  She expressed her pleasure at having shot “Četnik” Igor.

Nor was this sniper fire an isolated incident.  Yet only Serbs were demonized and the Muslims portrayed exclusively as innocent victims.

Igor was a volunteer in a Četnik unit under the command of Branislav Gavrilović “Brne”.
It was also nice to see Prota Voja Čarkić again (the only priest with the military rank of Colonel).  I met him during the war as he shared his peoples’ suffering. Across the street from the Church of Sv Vel. Georgija is a military cemetery, where, in addition of Serbian soldiers, some ten Russian volunteers are buried. Some of them I knew and I always light a candle for the repose of their souls.

The second day we went to Srpska Herzegovina to visit Četnik Vojvoda Slavko Aleksić. I met Slavko in wartime Pale back in 1993 at the home of our gracious domaćin Bogdan Vukadin, and as Igor’s friend expressed a wish to participate in this charitable venture.

For security reasons we had to meet him at the entrance to the town of Bileća. It is sad that 15 years after the formal end of the Bosnian war he cannot move freely in his native Herzegovina, and had to travel armed.  He told us, ‘I have less freedom of movement now than during the war’. But that is another story.

He greeted us at his modest home with his wife Vera who I met during the war and who had been right hand during the war and continues to share in his persecution and suffering.  We spent several hours in good company talking and set about recording their message.

On the third day, we completed the video in Pale.   Then Željko Ninkov and his team set about editing the footage for me to take to England. They worked with great diligence up to the early morning hours and we are immensely grateful to them for that.

The film is 20 minutes long.  Those three days that I spent with Igor recording the material was an incomparable experience, even though blind fighter Danko Todorović had stayed in my house in California during the wartime years.

Regardless of his loss of vision, Igor is a very active man. Above all, he has faith in God and hope one day he will see his family, his wife Natasha and their two children for the first time.

Can any of us who have vision, to even imagine what it would mean for him and for his family?

Football Tournament

The 15th October was as beautiful day as we could have wished for: warm and sunny.  Young Serbian footballers came from far and wide, from London to Bradford. Ten teams registered for the tournament, and played on three pitches. Our guest Prota Žarko Nedić, came from Bradford with his team, and we prayed together to ask God to bless these good deeds. By the evening, the tournament had finished.  The winning team was from Leicester.

A very elegant dinner was held in the hall of the Četnik Club, Tromeđa.  Guests arrived from various cities of England, Birmingham, Bedford, Corby, Bradford, London, Devon, Halifax, and of course, from Derby and Leicester.

Boško Zecević, Secretary of the Četnik Movement gave the opening speech along with one of the sponsors Lazar Vuković from Corby.   Then we held the premier of the 20-minute documentary about blind fighter Igor Vukašinović entitled “Lest we Forget”.

The film was watched attentively to great applause.  It was a sure fire hit.

Distinguished Guests at the Tournament

We invited a special guest from Belgrade for the occasion Dr Milan Lekić. He is yet another of my wartime friends, with whom I have successfully worked both during the war and to this day. This is a man who showed his patriotism in action from the beginning of the war in 1991. After studying nuclear medicine in America and obtaining a doctorate, he went as a volunteer doctor in the RS Krajina.  In 1992 he became a doctor of the Army Chief of Staff of Republika Srpska then up to 1996 became the personal physician of the Commander of the Army RS General Ratko Mladić.

He was unable to attend personally due to his active involvement with Kosovo’s Serbs in this critical period but sent a written message which we read at the dinner.

He extended his greetings at this act of solidarity in aid of the Serbian hero, Igor Vukašinović.  The war had created some 37,663 Disabled Veterans in Republika Srpska.  He explained, “Our brother Igor, to whom this day is dedicated, is one of 1,100 in the most critical category – of whom 506 live in Republika Srpska and around 600 in Serbia.”

In his message Dr. Milan expanded on the numbers of Serbia’s finest sons killed during the 1991-95 conflict and during the illegal three-month NATO bombing campaign:
In Republika Srpska 24,321 (soldiers according to Chief of Staff of the VRS) and nearly 5,000 civilians; In the Republic of Serbian Krajina, 4,311 soldiers and 2,482 civilians;

From Serbia, during the 1991-95 war in the territory of the RSK, RS and Dalmatia, some 2,028 fighters were killed;

In Kosovo, 3,002 soldiers and policemen and 1,870 civilians were killed.

The list shows 2,349 Serbs in Croatia and 526 Serbs from Kosovo as still missing.

Dr Lekić said only Republika Srpska was saved during the war, RSK, Dalmatia, Kosovo, and Montenegro, were “voluntarily surrendered” by the traitors in positions of power.  The total number of lives lost amounted to 45,889 Serbian heroes.

The welcome addressing by Dr. Lekić was hailed with applause several times.
The event ended with financial contributions being pledged for Igor’s Fund.  The music, dancing and socializing continued until midnight.

In conclusion, the charity football tournament “We’re Playing for Igor” was a complete success and as organisers we are immensely grateful to one and all.

The documentary “Lest we Forget!” was shown to the faithful after Holy Liturgy at Stoke-on-Trent and Derby.  The fundraising efforts finally amounted to £2,830.

Bringing the Funds to Igor

Three of us (namely the Secretary of the Četnik Movement Boško Zecević, myself and our driver and friend Bane Čupić) arrived at Belgrade airport on 18th November 2011 on our way to Pale.  After a warm Serbian welcome and lunch at the home of Svetislava Čupić in Mačvanska Mitrovica, we set out for the wartime capital of Pale.

On the road we had another interesting encounter. In Vlasenica we were stopped by a regular policeman (not a traffic officer) at some makeshift lights.  He tried to fine us several hundred conv. marks for a fabricated offense (in reality, for driving a foreign car).

Since Vlasenica is in Republika Srpska and since the police officer wore the Serbian coat of arms on his uniform, Boško called upon his sense of honour as a fellow Serb brother.  Meantime, I offered him gifts of an icon and a cross.  He told us that yes, Serbs do live in Vlasenica and yes, his uniform does bear the Serbian coat of arms (since he had studied at the police academy in Banja Luka).  However, he is in fact a Muslim. On this occasion we were spared a fine and had plenty of travelling time left to reflect on this new topic: a joke at our own expense!

After several hours and a very pleasant journey, we arrived at Pale where we met with Igor and his wife Nataša.  Our friends from “Euro Marketing” Željko and camerman Vanja came over and joined us.  In a convivial atmosphere we agreed to continue following this story through to its conclusion, God willing, healing Igor’s sight.  They recorded a statement from the Secretary of the Četnik Movement Boško Zecević and from Igor with the announcement of the grand total of £ 2,830 – a gift of love and respect from all of us Serbs in the UK that was collected in the charity football tournament “We’re Playing for Igor!”

Igor asked that we convey his personal gratitude, not only for financial help, but for the solidarity and love demonstrated.

We parted from these wonderful people with the beautiful feeling that we have done a good deed not just for a blind Serbian fighter but his family too.

On our return we again visited the Church of St. Vel. George in the Sokolica Monastery where we had shot an important scene.  Engraved in marble on the inner walls of the temple were the names of 3,500 soldiers killed in the Sarajevo-Romanija region.

This time we discovered something new.  A chapel (to the main church) where names of all those who have perished in earlier wars, including Četniks from World War II, were inscribed.

The Abbot of the Monastery, Andrej greeted us and with we drank coffee together.  We also heard about preparations for the construction of a War Museum by the monastery so that artifacts would be preserved from past wars and not be lost and forgotten.

We would like to thank our friend Bane Čupić (a skilled musician who plays on BN TV) who helped and still offers help in any future charitable action.  Thanks to him, we concluded this highly successful mission.

Is there hope for Igor?

There is one question that remains: ‘Is there hope for Igor?’  Igor has faith in God and hope.  Medical science is progressing. There is a clinic in Germany called “Retina-Implant”, which deals exclusively with this field.  They aim to recover a part of the patient’s lost sight with chip implants to the head. We have already contacted the clinic with a view to being included in their program.  There are plenty of obstacles along the way, the largest being financial.

To be continued because: ‘All things are possible to him who believes!’

Amen (So be it)!

Prota Radmilo Ž. Stokić
Derby, England



Other stories
1.3.2015., RAS press

Backslider's Calendar

JANUARY: I hereby resolve to start to Church this year! But I’ll wait until February. Gotta get over the Holidays. They take a lot out of a fellow.
1.3.2015., RAS press

What Attracts People?

What attracts people to a Church? A convenient location? YES! An attractive building? YES! But the key element in attracting visitors, newcomers and prospective members is friendliness in the pews. Where there is a warm, dynamic Congregation with an enthusiasm that is contagious, visitors in large numbers will usually come.
1.3.2015., RAS press

Welcome to the Orthodox Church

In the years after Jesus’ Resurrection, apostles and missionaries travelled throughout the known world spreading the Gospel. Soon five major locations were established as centers for the faith: Jerusalem, Antioch, Rome, Alexandria and Constantinople. In the year 1054 the Roman church broke from this united Church, and five hundred years later Protestant churches began breaking away from Rome. But the original Church has remained united in the Apostolic Faith since the first century. THIS IS ORTHODOXY !
1.3.2015., RAS press

Orthodoxy and Roman Catholisism

Our Church is the Apostolic Church, which means that it was founded by Jesus Christ and organized by the Holy Apostles. The teaching of Jesus Christ and His Holy Apostles has been faithfully preserved in our Church by the Holy Tradition. During the first few centuries, within the Church five Patriarchates were established with the sees in the following cities: Antioch (in Syria), Jerusalem, Alexandria (in Egypt), Rome and Constantinople. These five Patriarchates were united into One Church until the middle of the 11th century.
1.3.2015., RAS press

Last sermon of a German clergymen

Friedrich Griesendorf, who died in 1958, was a very educated man. He was at one time a court clergymen for the German Kaiser, Wilhelm II. After World War II, he was a pastor in the Eversburg church parish where a camp of Serbian prisoners of war was located.
1.3.2015., RAS press

A Timeline of Church History

Scholars estimate there are over 2,600 groups today who lay claims to being the Church, or at least the direct descendants of the Church described in the New Testament Repeat: 2,600 ! But for the first thousand years of her history, the Church was essentially ONE! Five historic Patriarchal centers: Jerusalem, Antioch, Rome, Alexandria and Constantinople, formed a cohesive whole and were in full communion with one another. There were occasional heretical or schismatic groups going their own way, to be sure, but the Church was unifed until the 11th century.
27.2.2015., RAS press

Kempston residents present petition on religious inclusiveness to Number 10

Members of the Kempston Seventh Day Adventist Church visited Number 10 Downing Street last week to hand in a petition to the Prime Minister calling on him to do all he can to protect the most vulnerable and religious minorities in India. The petition, which was signed by over 700 local residents, draws attention to the pressure on Christians and Muslims in India and calls on Prime Minister, David Cameron to emphasise religious tolerance and inclusiveness in his discussions with India’s Prime Minister.
(1 / 1)