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EDITOR’S NOTE - After six months of siege by Serb forces, hun

October 18, 1992

EDITOR’S NOTE - After six months of siege by Serb forces, hundreds of thousands of people continue scratching out a living in Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital. This is one woman’s story.

Undated (AP) _ By JOHN DANISZEWSKI Associated Press Writer

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) - Before breakfast, Svetlana Pancetovic, 35 and newly widowed, runs across an open square under a sniper’s gaze, hoists eight gallons of water onto her thin shoulders and carries it home, more than a mile.

She hoards the water like gold.

During the rest of her 16-hour day, Mrs. Pancetovic cooks on a wood fire for her two little daughters and elderly aunt and goes to her bank job with smoky hair and ash-grimed hands.

For firewood, she cuts branches and gathers sticks in a cemetery where an aristocratic ancestor is buried. She hunts a bit of pumpkin to add to the daily rice, wraps her children in four layers of nightclothes for warmth and reads by candlelight until drifting off to sleep.

Before war consumed Sarajevo, Mrs. Pancetovic had a loving husband, two homes, a car, money and the time to play Chopin sonatas on her piano.

″I was used to a life filled with beauty and love, and now it is totally different,″ she said.

Everything changed when her husband was killed July 6, said Mrs. Pancetovic, a tall, slight woman with dark blonde hair, absently rubbing sores on her pale cheeks as she spoke.

All her energies, from the chill of morning until midnight, are devoted to survival. Everything is for the girls: 4-year-old Amela, lithe and intelligent like her father, and chubby, 3-year-old Lejla, born with Down’s syndrome.

Her husband, a mathematics professor from a wealthy Muslim family, died because of his beard.

A Bosnian irregular, gone berserk after the death of his wife, mistook Pancetovic for a Serb and killed him and six other people. Full beards are a trademark of the Serb fighters who surround Sarajevo.

The professor’s widow spent weeks learning what happened. The killer has since died in battle.

″I don’t even know where the grave of my husband is,″ she said. ″He was a real victim, totally innocent.

″I can understand hatred and the wish for revenge, but this was totally absurd. It would be much easier for us if he had been shot by a sniper or killed by a shell.″

But there is little time for grief in the besieged city. She has a mountain of tasks.

″After my husband disappeared, Amela would say to me when I left for work, ‘Mommy, hurry home. Please don’t get lost.’ I realized I had no right to deprive my children of all my attention and love, no matter how much I had lost.

″You would not believe how a woman who has just lost a husband whom she loved very much can still sing to her children.″

The worst part of the day is rising in the cold at 6 and hurrying to a broken pipe for water. It is only 50 yards from the Serb front line near the Sarajevo zoo, under the watchful eye of a sniper.

″The sniper works all the time; he gets up very early,″ Mrs. Pancetovic said. ″My very dear neighbor was shot two days ago.″

She fills six five-liter plastic jugs, lashes them together with a belt and carries the burden on her shoulders.

″It is possible to run before you get the water, but afterward it is too heavy and you have to walk,″ she said. ″You are exposed.″

At home, she heats water and adds milk powder and bread for her children’s breakfast.

Drinking water is boiled and purified with tablets, but still the girls have fallen ill. Six or seven quarts of water go for drinking and cooking, the rest for washing the dishes, clothes and themselves. The toilet is flushed with the dirty water.

″Every drop is important,″ said Mrs. Pancetovic. Her kitchen counter is a jungle of jars, jugs and bottles.

For food, she has only flour, rice, salt, a little oil, sugar and enough milk powder for 15 to 20 days. Recently, she spent 10 German marks for two small pumpkins.

Even though there is little to do at the bank, she leaves the girls with her 72-year-old aunt and goes to work. She is afraid of losing her job after the war otherwise, and just functioning is ″a kind of resistance.″

On Tuesday, she walked six miles to buy a wood stove and haul it home in the girls’ wagon.

It cost 180 marks ($125) from her emergency fund, but is a treasure in the microcosm of hardship and danger Sarajevo has become. Having the stove means she no longer will have to cook on the balcony, and it will help keep the family warm this winter.

Mrs. Pancetovic’s key to survival is thinking every day about the future.

″When I was younger, I was always very hungry for life,″ she said. ″I always wanted to be in a situation where I was testing all my limits. This must be God’s revenge: if you want ridiculous things from life, you will get them.″

She swears the conflict will not strip her of humanity.

″When this war started, I decided that it must not ruin me as a person,″ she said. ″If the war were to poison me with hatred, life wouldn’t be that precious anymore. Life is precious only when you have high standards.″

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