In the summer of 1999, after returning from our first, somewhat epic trip around Kosova itself (as opposed to refugee camps in neighbouring countries), the following article was published in the main local newspaper for Brighton, the Evening Argus:
“Shelled, stranded and still hoping to return to Kosovo”
It’s been a busy summer for Kieran Turner.
In the last four weeks he has survived a shell attack, dodged landmines, spent days stranded in the Albanian mountains and had a run-in with border guards which resulted in a diplomatic incident.
Yet the 26-year-old remains determined to go back to war-ravaged Kosovo and do his bit to rebuild the country.
Kieran has just returned home to Brighton after his latest trip with a convoy delivering computers, furniture and stationery to the plundered University of Pristina.
It was his fourth trip to the area and one of the most eventful. Nevertheless, he will be in England for just ten days before going back with another convoy.
A graduate from Sussex University, Kieran first became involved in aid work through the Kemp Town Network community organisation.
He said: “We were sitting around talking about the situation in Kosovo, saying how terrible it was, and that we must do something. So I said, ‘Let’s do something’.”
Within days network members were busy appealing for donations and making contact with aid organisations. Kieran bought an old Dodge van to fill with supplies of food, medicine and toiletries, and in April the team set off for Albania as part of a larger convoy.
More trips followed and work with other community organisations across the town led to the formation of the Brighton Lifeline for Kosovo.
With the end of the war, convoys were able to reach Kosovo for the first time. Last month Kieran joined some old friends from Aberdeen University to take supplies into the heart of the region in a convoy of six vehicles.
At the Macedonian border the convoy was told to pay £300 per vehicle before entering the country.
Members of the convoy immediately got in contact with their MPs back home to complain and the politicians in turn asked the Foreign Office to make approaches to the Macedonian government.
Kieran said: “Apparently they even got Robin Cook out of bed to scream at the Macedonians and make a big fuss. I understand they’re no longer asking for money on the border, so we’ve achieved something.”
During their journey through Kosovo, Kieran said they were all shocked by the damage in the country, with whole villages razed and people living in the burnt-out remains of their homes. The sight of a woman’s corpse bound with electrical flex remains one of his most horrific memories.
He said: “Everyone has a story to tell. The most amazing thing is that everyone was so pleased to see us.
“The Kosovans are still celebrating over there. Everybody is out on the streets because there is no curfew any more.”
One day Kieran and his friends were sitting in a restaurant in a town just outside Pristina when there was a loud explosion outside. He said: ”It was a shell landing nearby. It had come from the Serb side of the town and was basically a bullying tactic. They just wanted to let everyone know they were still around.”
The problems for the convoy continued when they returned via the Albanian mountains.
Kieran said: “The very worst roads you can possibly imagine are the best motorways out there. The gearbox on the truck just couldn’t take it and gave up on us.”
Unable to find anyone to fix the truck, the team eventually decided to leave it and after five days stranded in the country flew back to London on Tuesday.
Despite the trials and tribulations, Kieran is determined to return and pick up the truck in time for the next convoy.
He says people in Brighton must continue supporting the Kosovans.
He said: “I don’t pretend to understand the politics of what is happening, but the obvious thing is that people are starving and homeless. There’s no doubt that we have to go back again.”
Anyone who can donate supplies, skills or ideas can call Kieran on 01273 689547.