Andrew and Tanja Bone, 61 and 55, met in Sarajevo during the Bosnian war. They live in Scotland with their two rescue dogs
Andrew Bone was working as a truck driver for the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1993, distributing food and medicine to war-torn areas of Bosnia. At the end of the year, he flew to Sarajevo to cover for another staff member. “It was a desperate situation to fly into,” he says. “I was whisked straight up to the organisation’s headquarters in a bullet-proof Land Rover.” That’s where he spotted Tanja Todorovic for the first time. “I had this surge of adrenaline. I just felt that I had to get to know her. It sounds like a silly fairytale but it’s true.”
At the time, Tanja was working as a senior field officer for the charity. Andrew got the chance to speak to her properly when they were sent to deliver aid to a home for people with learning disabilities. “Andy was so kind to the people who lived there,” says Tanja. “He was handsome too. All this long, blonde, curly hair. It’s all gone now, of course,” she laughs.
Shortly afterwards, Tanja had to go to Pale for a work mission and asked Andrew to be her driver. “The road back was shelled while we were there,” he says. “We ended up having to spend the night in Pale. We had drinks together and that’s the night that we started our relationship.”
Andrew and Tanja Bone: ‘Meeting each other has been truly life-changing.’ Photograph: provided by Tanja Bone
A couple of weeks later, Andrew’s cover came to an end and he was sent back to Zagreb. “I was distraught. I went to the radio room and begged the operators to let me talk to her.” They told him it was impossible. “Eventually though they said they were nipping out for coffee and I was able to get hold of Tanja to tell her I loved her.”
Shortly afterwards, Tanja travelled to Zagreb to meet Andrew. “I had a Red Cross passport, which meant I was able to travel out of the war zone,” she explains. They discussed the future of their relationship and whether Tanja should return to Sarajevo. They knew they wanted to be together and had big decisions to make.
The situation was complicated by the fact that they were both married at the time. “My marriage wasn’t working out and Tanja was separated but it was really hard,” says Andrew. “Back then, Britain was sympathetic to refugees coming from Bosnia, so we decided it would be best to come here and be together, away from the war.”
Tanja applied for asylum and the pair were able to marry at the end of 1994, once their divorces were finalised. “I then got indefinite leave to remain and in 1999 I got my British citizenship,” she says.
Over the next 10 years, they moved around the UK, living in Norfolk, London, Leicester and Scotland. Andrew continued to work as a truck driver, while Tanja took on various roles including working for the Refugee Council and launching an organic fruit and vegetable shop in Leicester.
In 2004, she went back to university to train as a nurse and the couple moved to London. However, they soon realised they weren’t ready to stop exploring. “From 2009 to 2019, we travelled around the UK by boat, moving from place to place,” says Tanja. They worked when they needed to and enjoyed their nomadic lifestyle.
When Andrew became ill with cancer 18 months ago, they moved to a permanent base in Dumbarton, Scotland. “I feel really lucky to have had such incredible care at the hands of the NHS. I had some surgery just before lockdown and they now think I am cancer-free,” he says. Tanja is still working as a nurse, and the pair have been enjoying daily walks together. “We love the countryside here,” says Tanja. “When it’s safe, we will go back to hiking in the Highlands.”
It’s been 26 years since they met, but Andrew says he is more in love than ever. “She is my best friend and my everything. Nothing has changed for me since the moment we met.” Tanja feels the same. “Meeting each other has been truly life-changing. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened for either of us.”
(Source: The Guardian)