The Siege of Sarajevo: Tragic Story and Haunting Photos from The Bosnian War, 1992-1995

Sarajevo was besieged for the longest period in modern warfare history. It started on April 5, 1992, and ended on February 29, 1966. It lasted three times longer than the Battle of Stalingrad and more than a year longer than the Siege of Leningrad. During the Siege, 13,952 people were killed, including 5,434 civilians. At first, the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) and the Army of Republika Srpska (VRS) surrounded and shelled Bosnia’s capital. Numerous cultural institutions, historical monuments, sports venues, and much of the city’s socioeconomic infrastructure were damaged or destroyed.


After World War II, the government of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia closely monitored the political and social environment to prevent chaos and the country’s breakup. As a constituent nation of the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia in 1946, Bosnia and Herzegovina underwent all the social, economic, and political changes imposed on Yugoslavia by its communist government as many traditional Muslim institutions as possible were abolished in Bosnia and Herzegovina and wealthy foundations, dervish orders, and religious primary schools. The term “Muslim in the ethnic sense” was used in the 1961 Bosnian census, and the Bosnian Central Committee decreed in 1968 that “the Muslims are a distinct nation.” By 1971 Muslims made up the most significant swathe of the Bosnian population. During the next 20 years, the Serb and Croat people declined in absolute terms due to emigration. Muslims made up more than two-fifths of the Bosnian population in 1991, while Serbs accounted for slightly less than one-third and Croats for one-sixth. In the mid-1990s, Bosnian Muslims began using the term Bosniak instead of Muslim. In early 1990, multiparty elections were held in Slovenia and Croatia. 

The beginning of clashes

Bosnia and Herzegovina held elections in December 1990, and new parties representing the three national groups gained seats in rough proportion to their populations. Immediately following the declaration of Bosnian sovereignty, a referendum for independence was held on February 29 and March 1, 1992, which was boycotted by the vast majority of Serbs. There was a 63.4% turnout in the referendum, and 99.7% of voters chose independence. During and after the referendum, violence broke out in many places. A gunman opened fire at a Bosnian Serb wedding procession in a Muslim section of Sarajevo called Baščaršija on March 1.

The United States and the European Commission recognized Bosnia and Herzegovina’s independence on April 7, and Bosnian Serb paramilitary forces immediately began firing on Sarajevo. Bosnian Serb units of the Yugoslav army then began bombarding the city with artillery. In April, paramilitary troops and Yugoslav army units attacked several eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina towns with large Bosniak populations, including Zvornik, Foča, and Višegrad. Bosniaks were primarily expelled from these areas, the first victims of an ethnic cleansing process in the country. Bosniaks were the primary victims, and Serbs were the direct perpetrators, but Croats were also victims and perpetrators. During a coordinated offensive by the Yugoslav army, paramilitary groups, and local Bosnian Serb forces, roughly two-thirds of Bosnia’s territory came under Serb control.

The Siege of the city and the Bosnian War

During the months leading up to the War, JNA forces began mobilizing in the hills surrounding Sarajevo. The artillery and other ordnance and equipment that would prove crucial to the city’s Siege were deployed during this time. Bosnian Serb forces enacted a total blockade of the city on May 2, 1992. They cut off supplies of food and medicine and also cut off the city’s utilities. Serb forces outside the city shelled the government defenders continuously. The Serbs inside the city controlled most of the major military positions and the supply of arms. During the Siege, there were approximately 329 shell impacts per day, with a maximum of 3,777 on July 22, 1993.

 Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic ordered the Yugoslav government to remove these forces in April 1992. Bosnian forces were weakened militarily by an international arms embargo and by the conflict with Croat forces in 1993–94. Croatians and Bosniaks agreed, however, in 1994, to form a joint federation. In the Bosnian War, the United Nations (UN) refused to intervene, but UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR) troops facilitated humanitarian aid delivery. However, the UN failed to protect the safe area of Srebrenica in July 1995, when Bosnian Serb forces massacred more than 7,000 Bosnian men.

NATO’s intervention

NATO’s first use of force occurred in February 1994, when its fighters shot down four Bosnian Serb aircraft violating the no-fly zone over the country. At the UN’s request, NATO launched isolated and ineffective airstrikes against Bosnian Serb targets later that year. Late in 1995, NATO intensified airstrikes after the Srebrenica massacre and another Bosnian Serb attack on a Sarajevo marketplace. In November, Bosnian Serb forces agreed to U.S.-sponsored peace talks in Dayton after a large-scale Bosniak-Croat land offensive.


During the Siege, more than 2,000,000 people were displaced, and at least 200,000 people were killed. A subsequent study, however, determined that the death toll was actually about 100,000.

UNICEF reported that of the estimated 65,000 to 80,000 children in the city, at least 40% had been directly shot at by snipers; 51% had seen someone killed; 39% had seen one or more family members killed; 19% had witnessed a massacre; 48% had their home occupied by someone else; 73% had their home attacked or shelled, and 89% had lived in underground shelters. During this time, the psychological trauma that these children experienced will likely remain with them for years to come. Due to the high number of casualties and the wartime conditions, many makeshift cemeteries in Sarajevo and the surrounding areas.

#1 A Bosnian fighter ignores the risk from snipers to bravely help an elderly man cross a dangerous intersection on Sniper Alley, July 1992.

#2 Tears of anguish for a mother as she prepares to send her confused child out of Sarajevo on a bus promised safe passage by the Serb forces during the siege in 1992.

#3 The burnt out tower blocks of Sarajevo’s financial district seen through the shattered windows of the Holiday Inn Hotel.

#4 Welcome to hell – a woman hurried past graffiti in the area known as ‘Sniper Alley’ in Sarajevo’s main thorough fare during the siege in 1992.

#5 A Bosnian muslim girl studies the Koran by candlelight during the 47 month long siege of Sarajevo.

#6 Celloist Vedran Smalovic breaks down in tears after playing a requiem to a dead friend in Hero’s Cemetery, where Bosnian fighters were buried during the siege of Sarajevo, 1992.

#7 Gravediggers at work in the Lion Cemetery, Sarajevo, 1992.

#8 A woman holds a precious loaf of bread during the siege of Sarajevo, 1995.

#9 Photographers Paul Lowe and David Turnley run for cover beside the Holiday Inn hotel which was home to the media during the war, July 1992.

#10 A scene in the lobby of the Holiday Inn hotel used by the media during the war, July 1992.

#11 A woman grieves by a grave in the Lion Cemetery, July 1992.

#12 Bosnian fighters wish each other good luck and kiss goodbye after praying at a mosque before leaving to fight on the front line, 1992.

#13 American photographer David Turnley documents street fighting during the siege of Sarajevo, 1992.

#14 A small boy dressed in camouflage uniform holds his fathers pistol while eating an ice cream, 1992.

#15 A portrait of a boy holding a small automatic pistol beside destroyed cars in a frontline suburb of the city, 1992.

#16 Two teenage girls grimace with fear as they sprint across an intersection on Sniper Alley, July 1992.

#17 A small boy stares through a bullet riddled window in the Dobrinja suburb of Sarajevo.

#18 Bosnian soldier Sead Hamzic holds his 53 day old goddaughter Amila outside the family home in Sarajevo.

#19 A woman grieves by a grave in the Lion Cemetery, Sarajevo, 1992.

#20 Former model Mirjana Deak photographed at home near windows shattered by sniper bullets during the siege of the city.

#21 A group of young boys play with toy pistols in front of a burned building in Sarajevo 19 August 1992.

#22 In the dangerous suburb of Dobrinja Meliha Vareshanovic walks proudly and defiantly to work during the siege of Sarajevo, 1993.

#23 Graves of Muslims, Croats and Serbs at Zetra Stadium at Sarajevo during the siege of Sarajevo in the civil war.

#24 A girl runs through Hero’s Square on the Sarajevo frontline where residents constantly suffered heavy shelling and sniping during the siege, 1994.

#25 A boy in the area known as Heroes Square, so called because of the extreme dangers of living there during the war, 1994.

#27 Minka Salihagic, photographed on the balcony of her apartment in the area known as Heroes Square, so called because of the extreme dangers of living there during the war, in Sarajevo.

#28 People run for their lives across ‘Sniper Alley’ under the sights of Serb gunmen during the siege of Sarajevo, 1992.

#29 Shrapnel wounds on the face of a frightened boy in a ward at Sarajevo hospital during the siege in 1992.

#30 A family dash across ‘Sniper Alley’ to avoid gunfire during the siege of Sarajevo in 1994.

#31 Women shelter behind a UN armoured personnel carrier as they cross ‘Sniper Alley’ during the siege of Sarajevo in 1995.

#32 A woman weeps in the Lion Cemetery where Sarajevo citizens were buried.

#33 Muslim mother and her child enter their bomb damaged Sarajevo house on the frontline during the siege of Sarajevo in 1992.

#34 Women run for their lives across ‘Sniper Alley’ under the sights of Serb gunmen during the siege of Sarajevo.

#35 Women support each other as they cross a dangerous intersection of ‘Sniper Alley’ in Sarajevo during the siege.

#36 A Bosnian fighter armed with an AK-47 stands in front of images of massacres, alledgedly by Serbian forces.

#37 A well dressed woman wearing pearls gathers wild plants and leaves to cook as food becomes scarce in Sarajevo.

#38 Mothers sit talking outside an apartment block during a break in shelling as a child holds a toy gun nearby.

#39 A small boy hides shyly away from the camera at a refugee camp made up of railway carraiges.

#40 A mother carrying a potted plant runs across Sniper Alley with her young daughter.

#41 Residents collect water in buckets and coca-cola bottles from a stand-pipe on a Sarajevo street, July 1992.

#42 A man holds a crutch as he waits for his wife to climb through a broken shop window on Sniper Alley, July 1992.

#43 Mothers and children sit talking outside an apartment block during a break in shelling, July 1992.

#44 Men climb through broken shop windows out of the line of fire to avoid being shot by snipers, July 1992.

#45 Boys dressed in the uniform of Bosnian army fighters play with a real pistol, July 1992.

#46 A frightened woman collects water at a stand pipe during an exchange of gunfire between Bosnian and Serbian fighters, July 1992.

#47 The face of a badly burned child injured during heavy shelling, July 1992.

#48 Children use empty amunition boxes as they play Serb against Bosnians during a break in the real life shelling of Sarajevo of 1992.

#49 Children use empty ammunition boxes as they play Serb against Bosnians during a break in the real life shelling of Sarajevo of 1992.

#50 A couple hold hands and shelter behind an armoured press vehicle as they run across an intersection in Sarajevo, 1992.

#51 A teenage girl and a young Bosnian fighter with an AK-47 flirt on a street corner during a break in shelling, 1992.

#52 Porters from Kosovo Hospital rush a man wounded by a shell to the emergency room, during the Siege of Sarajevo, Bosnia, July 1992.

#54 Citizens sprint across ‘Sniper Alley’ during the siege of Sarajevo in 1994.

#55 Mirza Mangajic, a 10-year-old Muslim boy, survives in Sarajevo’s Old Town quarter with his grandmother, 1993.

#56 Mirza Mangajic, a 10-year-old Muslim boy, lays his head in his grandmother’s lap as he prays with her.

#57 A 10-year-old Muslim boy, walks in the street. He survives in Sarajevo’s Old Town.

#58 A mother hugging her injured child during the Siege of Sarajevo, 1994.

#59 A girl who lost her both legs in the hospital during the Bosnian War, 1994.

#60 A one year old child in the hospital during the Siege of Sarajevo, 1994.

#62 A body lies in a morgue during the four year siege of Sarajevo, 1994.

#63 Women wait for the shooting to stop before running across ‘Sniper Alley’ during the siege of Sarajevo in 1995.

#64 People shelter from the rain under their umbrellas during filming of ‘Welcome to Sarajevo’ starring Woody Harrelson, 1994.

#65 Passengers on a Sarajevo tram in the destroyed financial district of Sarajevo, 1994.

#66 Muslim women plant vegetables in a small patch of earth outside their apartment as a man watches, and smokes a cigarette, 1994.

#67 A man in the area known as Heroes Square, so called because of the extreme dangers of living there during the war.

#68 A man deep in thought in a Sarajevo cemetery, April 1994.

#69 A mother from a poor family sits outside her home with eight of her ten children, May 1994.

#70 A woman grieves at her relative’s grave after his burial in a Sarajevo cemetery, 1994.

#71 An amputee on crutches walks along the main road known as Sniper Alley, 1995.

#72 Men who lost limbs through shells and landmines play floor volley ball at a sports club for amputees set up in Sarajevo during the war, 1995.

#73 Children injured in the siege moving along the corridors of Kosevo Hospital in Sarajevo, 1995.

#74 A little girl watches heavily armed US Special Forces on patrol in Sarajevo after the ceasefire, 1996.

#75 An elderly man displays a scar from a stomach wound caused by shrapnel from a mortar shell, 1966.

#76 The first signs of rebirth and rebuilding as washing hangs on the balcony of a shell damaged apartment block on Sarajevo’s frontline.

#77 A woman grieves at the grave of her son in a snow covered Sarajevo cemetery, 1995.

Written by Benjamin Grayson

Former Bouquet seller now making a go with blogging and graphic designing. I love creating & composing history articles and lists.

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