Dragan Krstic, his wife and their six children gathered in the single room they now call home for what has become their usual daily meal -- four thick, white strips of pork fat and a few ladles of beans.
Two of his children have dysentery, the 30-year-old displaced Kosovo Serb said. A daughter, Jovana, has mental retardation. Back home, he had arranged to have her treated, but the war put an end to that. "I can't get care for her here," he said.
Krstic and his family, along with about 420 other displaced people from Kosovo, are crammed into stifling, fly-infested rooms without toilets or running water at a workers' barracks in this Serbian city 30 miles southeast of Belgrade. They are among nearly 190,000 Serbs and Gypsies who have fled Kosovo since the war ended two months ago -- the majority in the face of reprisals by Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority.
Unable to return to their homes in the Serbian province, yet considered a burden and not entirely welcome in other parts of Serbia, tens of thousands are eking out a meager existence as the war's forgotten refugees. Here in the decrepit barracks of an abandoned steel mill, which was bombed by NATO warplanes during last spring's air war, they complain that they are not getting enough to eat -- just one meal a day, and in tiny portions -- and lack medicine and other basic necessities.
Vidosava Vlajkovic, a Gypsy, held out a tin plate of greasy macaroni as she prepared lunch for her husband and three children. "This is for five of us," said Vlajkovic, who is expecting her fourth child any day. "How can we sustain ourselves on food like this?" As she complained, one of her children sat on the floor chewing on a fly swatter.
The plight of the displaced Serbs, who share the barracks complex with about 300 ethnic Serbs who fled Croatia in 1995, has drawn little attention, in part because their community has been accused of complicity in atrocities against Kosovo Albanians by Yugoslav troops and Serbian police. The Serbs here deny any involvement.
Whether they are victims or perpetrators, targets of ethnic Albanian looting and house-burning, or looters and arsonists themselves, they harbor deep bitterness and anger. In interviews, they waver between declarations of innocence and vows of revenge, between denunciations of NATO peacekeepers in Kosovo for failing to protect them and pleas for international assistance.
"This is all too sad, and it's no use talking about it," said Zvonko Jezdic, the barracks leader. "We have no milk for our children. What is a child guilty of? He doesn't know what war is."
Adding to their woes is the fact that the Serbs and Gypsies who fled Kosovo officially are not considered refugees but "internally displaced people," since Kosovo is formally a province of Serbia, the dominant republic in the Yugoslav federation. Thus, caring for them is officially the responsibility of the government in Belgrade, rather than such international organizations as the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. The U.N. agency took charge of the hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians who were driven from Kosovo by Serb-led government forces during the war.
Although U.N. agencies say they have a mandate to help the displaced Serbs, in practice they must negotiate aid deliveries with the government of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. The aid is sent to the Yugoslav Red Cross and other local agencies, which are in charge of distribution.
The government has barred the Serbs and Gypsies from moving to Belgrade -- in part out of fear they could fuel the opposition movement to force Milosevic and his associates from office -- and they have been spread out across Serbia, complicating relief efforts.
"We're still experiencing some kind of glitch in the supply chain," said Maki Shinohara, a U.N. refugee agency representative in Belgrade. "In some areas, the delivery is not really systematic."
She said the agency's top priorities in Serbia are 500,000 Serbian refugees from Croatia and Bosnia, who have been here since wars in those former Yugoslav republics ended in 1995. But the agency does not want to discriminate against internally displaced Serbs who are in "the same predicament," she said.
About 120,000 of the displaced need food aid, said Robert Hauser, senior emergency coordinator of the World Food Program in Belgrade. Although Serbia currently has plenty of food, many of these people are suffering "food shortages at the household level" because they are too poor to buy what they need to supplement their rations, he said.
About 90,000 of those who fled Kosovo are living with families in Serbia, and 30,000 are staying in often crowded "collective centers," such as schools, gymnasiums, monasteries, vacant buildings and factory barracks. About 70,000 others who had sufficient resources have been able to resettle independently. Those occupying schools will have to move elsewhere before classes start in early September.
In addition, local authorities must decide what to do about enrolling displaced children in school and meeting other social obligations. In places such as this industrial town, communities have tried to accommodate the influx from Kosovo but risk becoming overwhelmed.
"Now the number of people asking for help is growing," said Zoran Radojkovic, a Serbian relief official here in Smederevo. "We dread what they're going to ask for when winter comes." He said he expects the number of displaced people from Kosovo to reach 10,000 in the next few weeks.
"It's a huge dilemma for us," Shinohara said. "We don't encourage these people to leave Kosovo, because we don't want to be associated with another form of "ethnic cleansing." But in extreme situations where it's a matter of life or death, we have to assist them to get out."
Krstic and others who left said it was just such a life or death choice that forced them to flee, often as their homes were being burned by ethnic Albanians. Krstic said Serbs in his village -- Obilic, near Pristina, the Kosovo capital -- had participated in looting homes of ethnic Albanians who had been driven out during the war. But other people from the village blamed police and army units from the southern Serbian city of Nis.
The soldiers and police "were looting and burning during the war, and when they withdrew they put us in a quarrel with our neighbors," said Slavisa Danic, 37. Before that, the two communities got along, he said. "We went to their weddings and funerals."
As the barracks residents told their stories, a loud argument erupted over the prospects of returning to Kosovo.
"Who wants to go back if it's not safe?" Jezdic, the barracks leader, shouted. "They're killing us, and KFOR [the NATO peacekeeping force] is not doing anything about it."
Others cried out the names of Kosovo Serbs who have been reported killed or missing in recent weeks. Jezdic angrily kicked a burlap bundle of blankets supplied by the U.N. refugee agency and tore open a carton of its "family hygiene" provisions. The blankets are rough and smell of oil. Other supplies, especially food, are inadequate, others complained.
"This is what we should talk about," Jezdic shouted. "Not, `I want to go home.' "