Seven years ago, a Malaysia Airlines Boeing-777 flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down over the occupied part of Donbas. On July 17, 2014, all 283 passengers and 15 crew members on board were killed in the downing. Most of them, 196 people, are Dutch citizens.
IRON BIRD AND SUNFLOWER FIELD
Since 2014, July 17 has been a special day in the Netherlands. Every year on this day, the families of the victims mourn their loved ones and once again remind the whole world of the terrifying consequences of Russian aggression. The seventh anniversary of the tragedy passed without mass events due to a sharp increase in COVID-19 incidence with a new daily high of 11,000 cases recorded on July 15. Under these circumstances, the event at the national memorial saw limited attendance.
The memorial to the victims of the disaster is located near Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, where fkight MH17 took off seven years ago. Most of the families of the victims are still unwilling to communicate publicly, especially with the media. Piet Ploeg, who lost his brother, daughter-in-law, and nephew, as well as Anton Kotte, whose eldest son, daughter-in-law, and six-year-old grandson died in the incident, took on such a difficult mission. Both of these silver-haired men are also members of the board of the MH17 Disaster Foundation, taking an active part in organizing vigil services.
"It's hard… Parents aren’t supposed to bury their children," said Anton Cotte, touching the carving with the victims’ names.
Wreaths and sunflowers bouquets are seen at the memorial complex as seven years ago MH17 plunged from the sky onto a sunflower field. A sunflower field has also been planted around the site. Flowers grew from Donbas seeds taken from a field on which the bodies and plane debris were found scattered. On the territory of the memorial there are 298 trees, symbolizing the victims of the tragedy. Next to each tree is a nameplate and an iron bird that will never take to the sky again.
Ukraine’s Ambassador to the Netherlands, Vsevolod Chentsov, laid flowers and expressed condolences to the victims’ families. He noted that July 17 also marks World Day of International Justice, which is very symbolic, because now the main task in the MH17 trial is to ensure that justice prevails: to identify the perpetrators and bring them to responsibilIty.
It's hard… Parents aren’t supposed to bury their children
"In their tireless and coordinated efforts, the Joint Investigation Team is steadily moving towards revealing all circumstances of the plane crash. A huge number of intercepted communications, videos and photos, technical examinations, and witness accounts helped identify the weapon of crime, the place of the missile launch, and the individuals involved. All this allowed the court to consider a single plausible version: the plane was shot down by the Buk launcher, which belonged to the 53rd Brigade of the Russian Armed Forces, and that the missile was launched near the village of Pervomaiske, the one controlled by pro-Russian militants. The trial in the Hague District Court will resume its work in September 2021," the ambassador said in an exclusive comment to Ukrinform.
In the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, the diplomat added, Ukraine and the Netherlands are seeking to bring Russia to justice for its role in the MH17 downing.
"In parallel lines, the trial against the Russian Federation initiated by families of the victims is underway in the same court. In addition, MH17 is one of the key episodes in the Ukraine v. Russia case in the UN International Court of Justice. Despite Russia's desperate attempts to confuse the courts, compromise the investigation, or manipulate public opinion, we have made significant progress toward achieving justice – in all possible jurisdictions and in the shortest possible time for trials of such complexity," Chentsov stressed.
RUSSIA’S RESPONSIBILITY AND RALLY OUTSIDE PALACE OF JUSTICE
The UN International Court of Justice sits in the Palace of Justice in The Hague. It was outside its HQ that Ukrainians living in the Netherlands rallied to once again call on Russia to acknowledge own responsibility for the MH17 downing.
On the seventh anniversary of the MH17 tragedy, they held posters calling for justice to MH17 victims and flew Ukrainian flags.
A monument was erected near the Palace of Justice and Peace in 2004, symbolizing the path to peace and calling on the world to unite in seeking it. Around the monument with eternal fire stones were set up, reflecting the countries’ will to achieve peace. Ukraine is among those countries.
"Seven years into the tragedy… Russia still hasn’t acknowledged its responsibility, hoping that eventually everything will pass and fall into oblivion. We see the efforts the Russian Federation has been making to avoid punishment. Therefore, today, on the anniversary of the tragedy, we are trying to remind once again of the threat Russia poses to the civilized world by its actions," Colonel Volodymyr Denysov, Defense Attaché at the Ukrainian Embassy in the Netherlands, told Ukrinform.
During the rally in The Hague, representatives of the Ukrainian community in the Netherlands expressed condolences to the families of the victims and called on other countries to join the initiative launched by the Ukrainian community in France: to remember the victims of the MH17 tragedy and take to the streets of their home cities demanding justice and peace.
Also, on the seventh anniversary of the MH17 tragedy, the memory of the victims was honored in Austria. The rally unfolded in Vienna’s central square. The activists called on Russia to acknowledge its responsibility for the plane downing and to cooperate with the investigation and court.
Seven years into the tragedy… Russia still hasn’t acknowledged its responsibility, hoping that eventually everything will pass and fall into oblivion
A model of the plane with a list of states and the number of their citizens killed in the crash was installed on Geldenplatz. The participants in the rally observed a moment of silence in memory of the victims and lit candles, arranging them in an MH17 formation. During the event, reports about the plane crash, investigation, and trial in the MH17 case were aired from speakers.
TRIAL AND FAMILIES’ HOPE
The Hague District Court in March last year launched hearings of the case into the crash of flight MH17 from the sky over Donbas. On July 8, the Schiphol Court Complex near Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, from where MH17 took off seven years ago, held its last hearing on the merits this summer. Photos, videos, and maps of the Buk transportation routes, collected by the investigation, were publicly presented in court.
"Summarizing where the case has progressed to is simple. If you know the JIT investigation outcome, there is little new evidence or issues that were not anticipated to date. But there are more sources, more descriptions of in-depth analysis and additional information. The roles of each Defendant are also being coordinated so you can see each separate actor as a part of the whole plan and event. That is impressive and adds context to each role. That has been the most impressive part of the trial so far," said Jerry Skinner, a U.S. lawyer representing relatives of MH17 victims at the European Court of Human Rights, said in an exclusive comment to Ukrinform.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in November is due to hold a hearing of the MH17 case. The hearing is scheduled for November 24, 2021.
The hearings on the merits will continue in the Schiphol court complex in September – this is when the relatives of the victims will appear in court.
"Many of us still see a picture of how, after the planes brought the remains here, black cars then were transporting them to another city for identification... We are waiting for a court ruling and, except for the four accused, we hope to hear the names of all those involved in the tragedy and we want them all to be punished," Anton Cotte said, standing next to the MH17 monument by the military airbase in his hometown of Eindhoven.
Traditionally, Ukrainians living in Eindhoven came to the monument to express their condolences and lay sunflowers.
Together with his son and grandchildren, Anton Cotte observed a moment of silence in memory of his eldest son, who was 43, his daughter-in-law, and his youngest grandson, who was only six.
Iryna Drabok, The Hague
Photos by author
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