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Balkans Special Report

All but forgotten in Kosovo's war with itself is a mental hospital, near the capital city of Pristina, that is home to 350 of the province's most vulnerable, most neglected citizens.

The institution at Stimlje is a place with locked gates and grate-covered windows, where men, women and children—with and without grave mental problems—subsist on little food, care or intellectual stimulation.

Living in the institution's crumbling buildings are dozens of children—once well but thought less so with time's passage—born to patients. They roam the grounds with schizophrenics, accused criminals, juvenile delinquents, homeless people, orphans, elderly people, people who simply are lost.

When NATO peacekeepers entered Kosovo on June 14, the institution's Serbian staff of about 50 people, including doctors, fled, leaving patients behind and the gates open.

Washington Post foreign correspondent Peter Finn reported on the doctors' flight. Then, as now, the facility had no psychiatrist or director. About 40 ethnic Albanian employees, including some whom the Serb government had driven into hiding, returned to work. Most still are working there, with no pay.

Washington Post staff photographer Carol Guzy returned to the hospital. Conditions she found were no less treacherous, but her photos also capture moments of tenderness, as patients care for less-well patients and devoted staff proffer comfort.

Finally, bringing hope to people who have had none, the Norwegian Red Cross recently assumed management of the facility and is looking for assistance from other groups, Finn has reported. The Norwegian Red Cross is seeking a psychiatrist to help assess patients, determining who is mentally ill and who should be placed in other facilities.

Help has arrived, in some small measure, for residents of the hospital at Stimlje.

--Alison Thresher


© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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