Being in a city under siege during SHTF

Picture of Selco


I am Selco and I am from the Balkan region, and as some of you may know it was hell here from 92-95, anyway, for 1 whole year I lived and survived in a city WITHOUT: electricity, fuel, running water, food distribution, without any kind of organized law or government. The city was surrounded for 1 year and it actually was a real SHTF situation. Our allies were our enemies from one day to the next. Today I’m prepared and share my experience on this blog.

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After last post and the video about Homs in Syria I received some more questions about how it felt in city under siege. So today I share some details about this kind of chaotic urban warfare situation.

When SHTF there might not be army outside shooting at you, but there might be gangs who prey on you to get your supplies. Being under siege feels like someone takes the ground away you walked on.

Nothing is like it was before. When you defend your home you need to have mindset change. Home is not cozy secure place anymore. Home is the place you chose to defend yourself and loved ones. You will feel very different about place you used as defensive base forever.

To stay protected or to try to protect against firing and shelling required some skill, knowledge and in lot of the times good luck.

I can say that at the beginning people acted very brave, but on the other side that was not courage, it was more like lack of knowledge how easily man can be killed. People went out like kids with water pistols only that getting wet might be own blood or blood of friend on you.

So i watched few times how man attacking another guy who is hiding behind some cover. Attacker is just running towards the guy behind cover and constantly shooting. Other guy behind cover just leans forward for second, gets timing right, and kills the foolish attacker.

When you have bunch of civilians with lot of weapons, some strange situations can occur. Remember i am talking about people that most of them did not know too much about war, fighting, tactics and everything else.

We did not had some smart philosophy of street fighting, especially not in the beginning. But as the time goes some of the obvious things get figured, or learned if you like.

If somebody wanted to attack someone who is inside house, most usual way was to use RPG or hand granades on some of the openings to shock people inside and create some shrapnel flying around.

In some other situations (quite often) guys used human shields to get to the house, lot of guys get killed because they thought it is not OK to kill some poor prisoner in order to defend house.

Imagine that three bad guys come towards you and they push two older woman in front of them. Terrible situations. After some time most shot at everything that looked suspicious… no matter what.

Most of the fighting in the city was like shoot and hide, fight while moving, like fighting with shadows, they are everywhere and each shadow can kill you. You often fight people who you do not even see good, so to walk or run lightly was key. Often you do not see enemy and shoot at whatever. Sounds bad but in lot of the situations very good thing was to shoot at anything that looks even close to suspicious, and in most of the situation not even stop later to check.

You never know how well you hit. Just grab your stuff and move. Move… move. I remember that. Always on the run.

Psychology in urban warfare

Fear was one of the greatest ally of fighting, so if one of the group wanted to kill or expel other group from some street, position or building. Usual method was to talk to them for hours over the megaphone device. Maybe from this perspective looks ridiculous but if you listen for hours or days for one and same story how you are gonna be treated good if you surrender yourself, after some time lot of folks are gonna start to belive in that.

Or in other case you may listen for an hours what that guys gonna do to your family and you if you do not surrender youself.

Hard to imagine how wrong things can be

After watching video of Syria and people in Homs some memories came back. It was good that Jay visited me for making the survival boot camp here and ask all those questions. Some dark memories hide deep inside of me. Not easy to get to them. But this is one that came back.

My friend got caught with his comrade in one house, actually two of them are left something like behind enemy lines, in basement of destroyed house. Enemy group, some 150-200 men was doing sweep trough that street, robbing, and killing civilians who had not time to run. He said to me that they spend two days in basement, covered with all kind of junk, watching outside trough small opening, few meters from opening was a corpse of girl, maybe 10 years old.

In order to see if somebody is coming to their basement, one of them needed to be constantly on that small opening, watching. He said he managed to watch atrocities that those people did to civilians and somehow push that deep inside his brain, over the time, to put these memories away. But to stare at dead kid, all the time, with her eyes wide open, blond hair, he almost lost his mind.

One of them had a pistol and few bullets, other one had a rifle , 30 bullets and homemade grenade (made from unexploded tank grenade).

They make agrement, if they see enemy is coming to the basement, they gonna fire everything and blow themselfs with that grenade. Nobody came in basement, burned house was not interesting for other guys. After two days enemy group just pulled back.

They survived war, both of them. One of them became drug addict, lived very fast few years and died from overdose.

Other man is still my friend, he is in mid 40ies, prepared, armed, strong, skilled. He have two kids, boy and girl, teenagers. Both of them know how to shoot, how to defend themselves.

I can only write here but reality is a whole different thing. Once things turn ugly, some things can feel so wrong they can not be understood or processed with normal mind.

Actually there is no way to deal with that, sometimes with friends we can speak about these things, sometimes we laugh, other times some of my friends are quiet for days, I do not know, I have periods like that too. I think none one of us is dealing too good with that, maybe pushing it away from time to time, I have for example some periods when I am too agressive, easy to explode, rarely, but I still have it.

While this site and my course is about urban survival I hope we all never have to go through this (again). But when time comes, I’m ready and you should be too.

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43 Responses

  1. Through your writing I am beginning to see how terrible being under siege could get. Thank you for sharing. Were do the people get the weapons and ammunition to defend themselves?

    1. The problem is, Bobbie Jo, we’re never given the perfect amount of warning that now is the time to act. We all see the same things, and interpret them differently as to how bad/good they are. We may still have a few years of time to get ourselves together, or we may already be too late. Without being cynical or flippant, we have to do what we can, where we are at.

  2. These things sound so hard to live through, yet we may shortly be in the same situation. Thank you for sharing your hard times so we can learn from them.

  3. The city won’t be any kind of place to be in this country. How many people do you know in urban areas that even know how to make safe drinking water, let alone procure food, maintain basic hygiene, etc…? Nope. As Selco has pointed out time and again from his own experience those that don’t have anything, and don’t know how to do anything will simply adopt the “might makes right” mentality and resort to brute force. The smart money is on making like the ant and doing everything possible during these times of peace and relative plenty here at home to make a place outside the city that can mostly self sustain. A daunting task to be sure, but I think that being caught in the middle of urban chaos when that day comes, having not done it might be one’s dieing regret.

    1. Clay: You are soooooo right. But city people will stay glued to the urban areas no matter what. It is beyond sad but we have to get the mindset that these people are going to die and just count them gone and forgotten. We have no other choice. Even the bible says that when the daughter of Babylon is destroyed we will not dare enter the cities. Yet, no one is listening. thanks and wish you the very best out there.

  4. Bugout to a safe house would be ideal but many of us are ill prepared or ill equiped to do just that. It could be our skills, our phisical shape, our equipment that is the weak link. If you think you are the only one that knows about that secret bug out location that could supply the resources for survival then think again. There will be thousand of people headed to the same areas you are thinking about unless it really is a true bug out location that has been stocked and fortified to withstand trying times.
    Practice bugging out with the supplies you can round up within 60 minutes, Most of us will need hours to find the items and get them together. Know where you are headed on one tank of gas unless you regularly store extra feul then don’t count on getting more miles out of you vehicle than what one tank will allow.
    Once you get to your bugout location. Is this area defendable? Will the area provide adaquate food, water and shelter? Can you survive there long for the chaos or storm to subside?
    It is always easier to plan on paper than in follow through in reality. The physical/mental challenges ahead will be immense.One stroke of bad luck an you will be progressing through plan A, B, C, D, E and F. There are so many factors that must fall into place for success. A bit of bad luck and it is game over. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. What is your weak link?
    Plan to Bug in and out last those who would do you harm. Unless the residence will be burned to the ground you have shelter already. Plan your defenses and store your water and food. Build your sandbag bunker in your living room, grab your guns, your family and your bible. Plan to kill or be killed.

  5. Selco, when you describe “I have for example some periods when I am too agressive, easy to explode, rarely, but I still have it.: This is a classic symptom of P.T.S.D., Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

    For what it’s worth, it is normal. There are some fairly good techniques available now to help you deal with it. I hope that this course and blog are somehow helping you release the tension.

    There might be some nights when you can’t get to sleep and stay awake for hours. Not thinking of bad things, but you just can’t let go of consciousness.

    Been there. It gets better with time.

    1. @DocB
      Yea, i know.
      Luckily i go over some hardest period of that problem years ago.
      I also practicing some techniques when i have hard time, writing is one. Lot of other guys turn from “normal” guys to alcoholics, drug addicts, or i can say they go to the “dark side” with their lives.
      But yea, everyone of us have something from that time.

      1. I benefited from tapping and rapid eye movement therapy (captured and harmed for months). I escaped. PTSD took while to be obvious to me – flat affect soon after. I noticed how different and jumpy I was. The was amazed how bad old experience from attacks on me would pollute and twist new harmless experience into almost harmful experience. Worse a few year after. It terrified me.

        After I cognitively made connection to source I did “get well’ very good. Example. I would hold my sewing sizzors and get sensation to stab something. It terrified me. When I made connection in therapy and outside therapy with stabbing attack at me (bed died, I rolled and lived)… I was captured by psychotic former boyfriend.

        Another example, I leave classroom at university. I feel tired, but ok overall. Out of no where, I get impulse to jump off ledge of interior overlooking garden several stories up. I was not crazy, so I did not jump. The fact of impluse terrified me. Later I recall time when bad guy tried to do double suicide (me as homocide). The car went of road over Mtn/cliff/overlooking lake. Car got stuck on boulder.

        There are other examples. I believe that the memory can play tricks after trauma. I am not the same as before. I am much sharper now. I rarely feel depressed.Just too grateful to be alive.

        Peace to you Selco.

  6. There is much talk in America about “bugging out”, but truth is most of us will soon be under siege conditions from many gangs who will rape, murder, and destroy their way through once-pristine neighborhoods for their own sakes. Knowing how to stay low and live smart will be what keeps those who listened alive. It is good information you share about how you lived through this horrible time in your life.

    My father fought in Vietnam as a US Army medic. He suppressed many bad memories over the years, but sometimes things just came back he hoped never would. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)…many civilians suffer this as well as the military men and women who’ve experienced the horrors of war and violence. It takes much strength to get beyond these horrible memories to share with others for the sake of their survival. This is a good quality, my friend. What you share today will save the lives of others in the near future. This is a righteous quality which will honor you for years to come. Please continue to deliver truth and intelligent action to your audience. Our time is short–we need your wisdom. Be blessed.

    1. Life in or on the fringes of any major American city would be hell on earth when TSHTF. I suspect your prediction of mass pillaging and rape will prove true. The occasional, prospective victim will, with shotgun and 9 mm, cull a few of the rampagers, but, by and large, suburbia will be put literally to the torch by a small army of sociopaths. Let’s hope we never have to find out. But “hope” is NOT part of my survival plan. Firearms, plenty of ammo, water, a plump first aid kit, food, personal hygiene items, etc. ARE, however.

  7. A Special Thanks goes out to Selco for his insight into the trying times he endured. I believe his story has the power to wake us up and allow us to plan better for our own SHTF senarios. Water, Food, Shelter…

    How many people could nuetrallize the bad guy even if he/she had a hostage and a long list of demands.

    If you live in a state that doesn’t allow ownership of firearms you are in a very grave situation. Hand to hand combat is physically demanding and many times you will be outnumbered. A club, can of mace, or a knife will be a huge disadvantage when the bad guy has a gun. Evil doers will always stack the deck in there favor weather its legal or illegal.

    Having a dog that alerts you when someone is near is priceless. A small, medium or large dog can be the difference between a suprise encounter or not.


  8. Post traumatic stress is not necessarily a disorder, however. In my experience, most cases involve the mind attempting to order things that cannot be ordered. The real disorder lies in the people who fell apart ethically, behaved insanely, and forced others to deal with their insanity.

    In my view, this is an important distinction to make, and applies to operations other than war — politics, religion, business, etc.

  9. Selco – – Excellent post. I believe the disintegration of Yugoslavia left many military forces in the various new nations without effective control over that new nation’s weapons. Thus, heavy weaponry became more available for the various groups competing for dominance. Our situation in the US will not be the same in an economic meltdown.

    I do see roving bands as your two associates saw, with these bands raping, pillaging and destroying for the terror of it or for retribution against whomever is their opposition. They will not likely be armed with heavy weapons like artillery, mortars, armored vehicles, heavy machine guns, rocket launchers…..

    While we do have National Guard forces and some Reserve units within communities, they are pretty well controlled on how their weaponry is protected. Even our police forces do not have much heavy weaponry, except in major cities ( used by city police SWAT teams). Thus, I do not think the US will see such sieges as you experienced and as is happening in Syria.

    However, if civil war should break out ( and that is a definite possibility ) I do see local members of the National Guard and Reserve Army and Marine Corps Reserve deserting and taking their weapons with them. Then we will have the situations you described with shelling, bombing and wholesale destruction of population centers and civilian redoubts. These desertions will be on account of the beliefs and conscience of the Guardsmen and Reservists who see their national government abandoning the rule of law and abrogating our deeply cherished Constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.

    If Woe-Bama gets re-elected and attempts to remove Second Amendment freedoms, as he has intimated, or declares martial law, the situation in the US will be ripe for civil war which has already been named in advance as “The Second American Revolution”.

    Pray for Peace by Preparing for War. “sic semper tyrannus”

  10. Most of us have never experienced true life and death situations, like you have. I’d like to think that I’m fairly prepared for when times get tough; but it seems to me there’s a big difference between having enough supplies put away…and skills under your belt…vs. having the mindset to actually have to take a human life, if the need arises? How do you prepare for that? How CAN you? It seems to me that the criminals and gangs in our society have most of us beat, in that department. They are already ruthless and willing to kill. I am not…This doesn’t mean I won’t defend myself and my family, when the time comes. I just worry about the hesitation factor, in a SHTF situation. I’m too trusting of people…I can’t help it. But I don’t want some evil bastard to take my life or hurt my family after TSHTF. I’ve already made the decision that I am going to defend myself against evil people; I just need to figure out a way to ramp up my capacity for violence, (if and when it’s called for…), without losing my humanity in the process. I would be very interested in hearing your thoughts on this, Selco?

    1. Excellent post….both yours and Selco’s. I’ve never shot anyone, either, even after spending 12 years in our municipal police department. While I’m a better-than-average shot, (at clay pigeons or standing targets) I’ve never come close to shooting anyone, nor did I even stumble into a situation where I needed to unholster my revolver. Am afraid I’ll hesitate just a split second too long. Also, as I grow older, the strength to pump a shotgun or fire a revolver becomes almost more than I can accomplish. I have severe arthritis, so am relying on two rifles and an automatic.

      Selco’s scenario is just horrifying. Particularly horrifying that he had to endure it. What is the rate of atheism when you are forced to see too much? My husband came back from Viet Nam in stable mental health, but he also saw way too much for such a gentle man.

      We both appreciate your writing and your lessons, Selco, but are truly sorry that your widom comes from first-hand experience.

  11. Selco,
    I’m not sure if anyone ever asked this question before but, were you ever in the military in your country/had any formal training? Or did you sort of learn everything on the fly?

    In the human shield scenario, it reminds me of a movie I saw. Where they said to “shoot the hostage” to take them out of the equation. A movie I know. But it may be a little easier on your conscience to shoot old lady in the leg, when she falls down, you kill bad guy. The bad guy may still kill old lady when she falls, but at least that won’t be you killing her.

    As far as the PTSD, that explains why a lot of ex-military personnel turn to drugs/suicide after returning home. Unable to “turn off” their memories, they resort to extreme measures to find “relief.”

    Thanks again for another informative article. Take care and God Bless us all.

    1. @Tommy
      My military training was a joke, i did not had that more than from stories, movies, scout classes (or similar).
      So yes i learned that as i go. Most of my knowledge was learned on mistakes, luckily some toughest lessons i learned from other folks mistakes.

      About human shield scenario, in real life situations in most of the time you act and survive, or you do not act and die, not to mention other things like aiming to shoot someone in leg is not so easy, or you do not have time to aim at all, or not enough training.Considering this particular scenario, from my experience you just have time and space to raise your two hands with rifle above cover and shoot.
      While taking time to aim, or to check too much, you probably will be shot, other guys shooting too.
      Most of us see fight as a two groups of people shooting on each other, behind some covers, with enough time to see enemy, reload, aim, check all terrain and number of enemy, and their intentions.
      It is way too faster, adrenaline is pumping your moves, you act, you survive.

    1. Daniel: Maybe another good dispeller of hollywood’s dream would be to look at the website “NarcoMundo” and see the absolutely horrific atrocities the drug cartels do to people who get in their way. Warning, this is the most graphic website you will ever see. And who and what is coming across our southern border and infiltrating every town in America? These are the people we will sooner or later have to deal with.

  12. Zulu Cowboy – I know you asked Selco this question, but thought I’d chime in even though I don’t have any personal experience committing violence. I am in the Army but I am medical personnel. I’ve never even so much as gotten in a schoolyard fight as a boy. But, while of course I can’t know for sure, I feel confident that if I need to protect my family by pulling a trigger or even hand-to-hand combat, I feel confident I’ll be able to do it.

    How do you ramp up your capacity for violence without losing your humanity? Not by desensitizing yourself to violence. Not by watching horror movies and killing small animals.

    I suggest TRAINING – as closely as possible practicing the actual motions your body may have to go through. Every narrative I’ve read of inexperienced but trained individuals thrust into dire situations, it seems to me they’ve said “I didn’t really think about it – my training kicked in and it was like I was on autopilot.”

    If you can’t afford tactical training like Gunsite courses, then in addition to “static” firearms training like Appleseed, you might consider something like paintball. I believe training your “muscle memory” will do you more good than playing video games.

    Now that’s my humble opinion – I defer to Selco and any cops or other actual “trigger-pullers” out there with more experience.

  13. Hostages are already dead, even if still breathing. If by some miracle, they can be saved/helped after defeating kidnappers, I would. But, they are dead as long as they have a gun or knife to them and are bound. A decent shot against the kidnapper behind a hostage is worth taking, if only to discourage future hostage-takers.

    Selco has made the point before that you aren’t fighting to survive for yourself, but to save your family. You don’t have the obligations of a soldier or police officer, nor the resources, so fighting, hiding, and running is what you can do.

    I tend to agree with the post asserting that heavy crew-served weapons will be rare in a chaotic former USA, but pistols and rifles of military utility will be much easier to get than a paying job. As mentioned in previous posts: food, water, fire, clothing, shelter, security are the basics missing from a lawless city under siege, or a country breaking up. Different stages of collapse/lawlessness lack and need different things.


  14. I thank you for your honesty and desire to educate to lost minds we have too many of in CONUS.

    I ask if it is possible to be too civilized to survive the dread of violence we only imagine on tv ?

    For my money the feminization of the American man being taught to be in touch with his feelings, compassion and caring for others has driven our warrior psyche too deep to retrieve without some form of damage. Our nation was created by warriors willing to do whatever it took to survive and remain free and I believe that the majority of modern men have lost that ability and they and their families will suffer for it.

    There is nothing good in our future.

    Yank lll

  15. Just a note about the hard truths in the last two posts: I can only imagine that, as bad as things sound in your teachings, the reality is far, far worse. Thank you for working so hard to open peoples’ eyes to what life would be like post-SHTF,

  16. Most people who report on being in combat agree with Selco. All the “planning” goes out the window. I guess with a lot of training , experience, etc some people develop the ability to stay cool under fire. We discussed this before, about how few soldiers are actually effective fighters. And you have to reverse your “nice guy”.
    One thing I learnt from Ferfals site. In a SHTF situation .. when someone waves your car down.. looking like they need help.. you aim for them.. and hit the gas…
    No more Mr. nice guy… if you want to live…

  17. Accurate account. Survival is a nasty thing, but better than the alternative. I don’t live in a city and feel for those of you who do. However, that just spreads out the conflict. I am taking nothing for granted.

  18. If this doesn’t convince every one of us to have a bug out location and plan of action that gets us out of dodge before TSHTF – nothing will. The best solution to 150 – 200 guys roaming the city killing and stealing… is not being there! Thanks Selco, I appreciate learning from your experiences.

    1. @Shawn
      Yea, i mean lot of good will, trust in mankind, and hope and good preparing can be lost when you find yourself in front of the attacking mob.
      I agree, best option is not to be there.

  19. They say “experience is the best teacher” but it is not true – even though sometimes it is the only way left. Who wants to learn about roving bands and grenades by experience? Selco – thanks for sharing what you learned from your experiences, so we may learn from you and be better off than finding out the hard way. Now we are responsible for what we know.

  20. Selco, you mentioned how groups would use megaphones broadcast to people under siege to come out, or leave, and they would not be hurt. Were people allowed to leave without harm in such situations or did trusting lead to death or attack? Was there any honor with such things such as white flags for surrender?

    1. @Jay
      No, usually no honor in that, one of the key point of this whole story is that you can forget about honor, almost in all situations. Honor was rare.
      Sometimes they leave alone kids and women, sometimes not.

  21. Hi Selco,

    I came accross your site by accident, but I appreicate all the good information. Some of the pics brought back bad memories as I was in Sarajevo and Mostar from Jan 94 to Nov 95. I came in with a team of doctors and ended staying as one of John Jordans GOFERS. My real education as a medic started in those dark days.

    Stay Safe,

    Sandy Fraser

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