“My mother would sit at her sewing machine, weeping as she stitched military uniforms, her tears falling into the material. She told me that men were going to die in those uniforms,” said Ivana Katic, who was sixteen when the civil war began in former Yugoslavia in 1991.
Katic's family owned a boutique and were commissioned by Croatian forces to produce uniforms for soldiers.
“It eventually bankrupted our family's business because inflation was so high. By the time the government would pay us, say thirty or sixty days later, there would be no money to pay our workers- no money for our family.”
At the age of sixteen, Katic's world changed and remembers the moment vividly. “I was playing chess outside on a bench, wearing shorts and these clog shoes. All of a sudden a plane flew by, so low and so loud. I ran home, I remember ditching my clogs I was in such a panic. It was human instinct. That was the day that Serbia invaded us.” said Katic.
From that day forward, Katic spent the next four years living in fear. She remembers the chaos and mayhem. Women were hunted, gathered in gymnasiums and raped. This was Katic's reality, and every time the siren blared, she would run desperately to the nearest place to hide in a bunker for hours -sometimes days. An instinct that would stay with her, even after moving to Canada, after the war had ended.
“For years, and still sometimes now, whenever I hear loud noises or planes, I'll scan the area to find the nearest safe place.” said Katic.
Katic's father became increasingly violent towards her throughout the years of the war. The last experience left Katic severely concussed and put her in the hospital. “It was his way of coping with what was happening.” said Katic.
Depressed and desperate to escape, that last experience with her father pushed Katic to move to Canada. With seven hundred dollars and two suitcases, one filled with clothes, the other packed with photos and memories, Katic spent the day after her twentieth birthday on a plane to Winnipeg. She hardly spoke a word of english.
“It was a struggle, you know. I couldn't call a friend up and say that I needed to borrow money- because I had no one to call. I would go to Subway and steal soda crackers to make ketchup sandwiches. I was in survival mode.” said Katic.
Katic still struggles with the scars of war. Since coming to Canada, Katic has had roller coaster years of depression, substance abuse and rehab. For several years, she dated and lived with a Canadian soldier in Shilo, Manitoba. Remembrance Day has always made Katic incredibly grateful for her freedom as a Canadian.
Today, Katic works two jobs and attends weekly addiction and therapy meetings to keep herself in check. She is happy, sober and considers the friends she has made in Canada to be her family.
“One of the happiest days of my life was when I became a Canadian. Out of 150 people, the judge picked my story to share with everyone. It was a really proud moment for me.” said Katic.
It has been nearly nine years since Katic has returned to her city of Zagreb. She has long forgiven her father and on Christmas day Katic will board a plane to reconnect with her family, friends and the place she calls home.