They put their dead in cupboards and other makeshift coffins. One mother had to bury her son outside the front door, because Bosnian Serb shelling kept her from venturing farther.
Now, with peace, residents of Sarajevo want better graves for their loved ones.Proper reburial for all the capital's dead would cost $2 million, funeral home owner Vlado Raguz estimates. But government coffers are near bare, and post-war aid from overseas must concentrate on the living.
"We won't eat if necessary, just to secure a decent place for our Alen," Arifa Custovic said, standing next to her 22-year-old son's flower-covered grave at her doorstep in Dobrinja, a suburb six miles southwest of Sarajevo's center.
Alen Custovic, killed in 1992 defending his family's apartment complex from Bosnian Serbs, was one of 4,000 people of Sarajevo buried in yards, alleys and parks during the four-year war.
His mother hopes the state will arrange to transfer his body to a military cemetery. "If not," she said, "we'll do it ourselves."
The war claimed 10,500 victims in Sarajevo alone. Fighting made the two main graveyards off-limits by summer 1992 - one cemetery fell under control of Serb fighters, the other became a front-line war zone.
Raguz said mourners put bodies in makeshift coffins and laid them in equally makeshift graveyards.
The first summer of the war, city leaders removed the goal posts of the soccer stadium and started burying corpses. By the war's end, more than 2,000 bodies were buried there, making the field the city's largest temporary cemetery.
The Pecar family of Sarajevo lost their youngest and their oldest family members during the war - Azra, 6, and Disa, 60. They buried both in a yard.
While the city has agreed to pay for the little girl's reburial, the family must pay $470 to relocate the body of the grandmother. With monthly salaries averaging $27, it won't be easy.
"It is a lot of money," said Keka Pecar, the girl's aunt. "But we'll have to manage."