We did not have time to think. Mevlida returned the baby, wrapped in a simple blanket, in her coat and ran for her life, the emotions crossing her mind.
A few days earlier, she had given birth to her own stillborn child while fleeing soldiers who had massacred men and raped women.
Mevlida had buried her little daughter in an unmarked grave in a wood.
Now, two days after her 25th birthday, she has had a chance with another baby who was abandoned in Srebrenica when chaos and panic swept through Bosnia in 1992.
The three year war that followed saw horror on horror. But for Mevlida and baby Sara Hukic, there was an escape – in Britain.
And today, in the week of the 25th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre and 28 years to the day, she saved Sara, her mother and adopted daughter talk about their unbreakable bond.
Mevlida, 53, said, “The choice was to let her die or take her and save her. And I would never let someone die. ”
Sara, 28, said, “I am so proud of my mother. You can’t do anything without a spine and that’s what my mom has.
“Not everyone is able to go through a war, much less take a child who is not biologically their own and take care of this child, especially when he has nothing.
“It made me who I am today, especially with my own children, seeing how she was towards me and the love she had for me.
“I don’t know where I would be without my mother, she may not have given birth to me, but a mother is not someone who gives birth to you, a mother is someone who brings you up.
“Honestly, I’m so grateful to her – she’s one in a million. “
The Srebrenica massacre saw more than 8,000 Bosnians – ethnic Muslims, mostly men and boys – shot dead between July 11 and 22, 1995.
The killings were perpetrated by a Bosnian Serb army controlled by Ratko Mladic – known as the Bosnian butcher. In 2017, he was imprisoned for life in The Hague for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
Mevlida, then an intern, was one of the many who had to flee because the Bosnians were being persecuted. She was born into a wealthy family and, with her husband Azan and his extended family, lived on her parents’ farm in Srebrenica, on the border between Bosnia and Serbia.
The collapse of socialist Yugoslavia has caused bloodshed as states like Croatia and Slovenia are striving for independence.
Bosnia was declared independent following a referendum in 1992 and war broke out soon after. The neighbors turned against Mevlida’s family because they were Muslim.
Hell was unleashed when Bosnian Serb troops entered – capturing and torturing Mevlida’s older brother, Mustsfa, simply for being a wealthy Muslim. Other family members were taken to buses.
Then the bloodshed started and people ran to save their lives or were rounded up and massacred.
Mevlida said, “They have slaughtered people as if they were not even animals.
“They took men, women and children to the bridge, massacred them and threw them into the river.
“The river was completely red with the blood of Muslims. We tried to hide, we tried to escape. ”
Two of his brothers tried to defend people with broken exhaust pipes ripped from motorcycles.
Mevlida separated from her husband in chaos and still does not know what happened to her.
She managed to hide and escape with her parents Husein and Hafib, as well as the wife and children of her brother Sadik.
They fled into a forest and watched in horror at their burned house and burnt farm animals.
Another brother Ibro hit them and gave Mevlida and her mother an explosive device each – saying that they should detonate rather than be captured.
Said, “He said, ‘If they come to capture you, kill yourself. It is better to commit suicide because they have started to rape and torture women and girls. ”
Yet more grief was about to happen. Mevlida was heavily pregnant, hungry and cold. Her baby stopped moving and she gave birth to the stillborn daughter two days later. She buried the child among the trees.
In desperation, the group headed to the center of Srebrenica, where Mevlida’s married sister, Hafiza, gave them refuge.
It was then that fate united Mevlida and Sara.
Mevlida said, “A girl whose mother I knew had left her. Unfortunately, many mothers have left their babies, sometimes they could not watch him being hungry and it is also stress, mentally. I took it and just wanted to take care of it. “
A United Nations humanitarian team sent Mevlida and Sara to Tulsa hospital. It was a grueling five hour trip and some women, desperate for treatment, did not survive the trip.
After recovering in Tulsa, Mevlida and Sara headed for Denmark in 1993 and were accepted as refugees.
She officially adopted Sara and trained as a social worker.
Mevlida traveled to London as part of a Oxford University project on the integration of refugees.
Against a growing stream of Islamophobia in Denmark, Mevlida finally moved to England in 1999.
It was here that she met and married her second husband Djamel.
She said: “I can never forget Denmark and what they gave me, but life in Denmark as a Muslim meant that you had to answer every day why I am who I am. In England, I have never been asked to explain who I am. ”
Mevlida now runs charity stores for the Human Relief Foundation, which supports communities in some of the poorest regions of the world.
She and Sara live in Islington, north London, and say they cannot thank the UK enough for hosting them.
Speaking to Sara, Mevlida said, “You have always been more than a girl. You are a girl, a friend – in fact it was you who helped me get through this.
“I remember that you were probably four years old when my brothers died and I was sitting crying and you said to me:” But you know mom, you have me and I have you. I never forget that – I realized that we only needed each other. ”
Sara, who works at the Brent Cross Mall, added, “I think that’s what also makes us very strong together, we’re like best friends. I am Bosnian but England is my home. ”
Sara’s biological mother was called Zina and is said to be alive.
But Sara does not want to be reunited with her.
She has returned to Bosnia and will one day explain to her children – ages five and six – where she comes from.
The memories of 1992, meanwhile, remain hauntingly alive for Mevlida.
She cannot forget that Serbian troops constantly bombard Srebrenica for “target training” from the nearby Tara Mountain.
Thirty-six members of his immediate family were murdered during the war – including his brothers Sadik and Ibro, identified by DNA from bones found in anonymous graves. Six family members have yet to be found.
Sister Hafiza and her brother Mustsfa still live in Bosnia. Their parents also survived and Mevlida saw them again, although they have since died.
Mevlida has returned to Bosnia several times to identify and bury her relatives.
But thanks to her, a name is not part of the list of victims – Sara.
The proud mom said, “It was a decision that changed my whole life and I am so grateful to have made it.