Photos of a young and smiling couple are almost everywhere in the house of Silene Fredriksz and her husband Rob. Pictured are their 23-year-old son Bryce and his girlfriend Daisy. They died on July 17, 2014, when the Russian Buk missile shot down a passenger plane performing flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur in the sky over Donbas. The tragedy killed 283 passengers (including 196 Dutch citizens) and 15 crewmembers. An international investigation concluded that MH17 had been shot down from a Buk missile system that belongs to the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade of the Russian Armed Forces stationed in Kursk. Russia denies its involvement in the downing of the plane.
On March 9, 2020, the District Court of The Hague began hearing a criminal case against three Russians and a Ukrainian. Two Dutch lawyers represent the interests of one of the four defendants, Lieutenant Colonel of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Oleg Pulatov, who expressed a desire to join the proceedings. The Schiphol Judicial Complex, located 50 km from The Hague, has been reserved for one year for the MH17 trial.
One week before the sixth anniversary of the tragedy, the Netherlands filed a lawsuit against Russia with the European Court of Human Rights.
Silene Fredriksz and her husband Rob hoped all these years that one day they will hear the truth: "Who killed their children, and why?" Their son Bryce and his girlfriend Daisy lived with them for the last two years of their lives. The young couple's room looks the same as on the day of the tragedy. An unfinished drink, an uneaten pack of chips… Life here seems to have stopped. They are still waiting for their children back home…
On the eve of the sixth anniversary of the tragedy, in an interview with Ukrinform, the couple shared their expectations from the lawsuits and talked about their lives after the disaster. Silene also showed a tattoo she made in memory of the dead children.
PHOTO FROM THE PLANE AND A TATTOO ON THE LEFT ARM
- Silene, you have two chains with the letters B and D on your neck…
Silene: Yes, Bryce and Daisy.
- Did your son Bryce and his girlfriend Daisy live in this house with you?
Silene: Yes, they did. They had been together for three years, and Daisy had lived with us for the past two years. After the holidays, the children wanted to look for separate housing.
- How did you find out that you lost them?
Silene: They called my husband and told him what had happened. I was at a barbecue, and my phone was on silent mode when everyone was calling me. I was the last in the family to learn about the tragedy.
- What was your reaction? Did you realize what happened? Was there any hope that they could be late for the plane?
Silene: I asked my colleagues to check whether there was a disaster. They said yes, Malaysia Airlines... Then I realized: it's all over. I had no hope. There was no hope. I don't know how my husband felt... Rob?
Rob: No, there was no hope. I felt the same. I realized what had happened.
Silene: Rob took them to the airport.
Rob: Daisy told me, 'I'm afraid to fly.' I said, 'Oh, I've flown a lot of times, you don't have to be afraid.'
Silene: Daisy also sent her friends a photo from the cabin. So we knew they were there, and I understood that no one could survive such a catastrophe. However, our relatives persistently tried to call them, cultivating hope, but it was in vain.
Rob: I saw footage of what happened on television, and I was sure that it was impossible to survive after that.
- Did you manage to get Bryce and Daisy's things from the scene?
Silene: Yes, we have some clothes, Daisy's bag, purse, and the bracelet that I gave her, but it was mutilated, burnt.
- What was your life like after the tragedy?
Silene: It has completely changed.
Rob: This is a new life. There is simply no future for us. It was destroyed when MH17 was destroyed.
Silene: It's a part of your heart, which just disappeared. Of course, we still have children, we have a good time together, but you always feel some emptiness, someone is missing, someone is lost.
Rob: You feel as if someone has taken a piece of your heart, and nothing can change it - it's forever.
- Silene, you have a tattoo on your left arm. When did you get it?
Silene: It says 'Bryce and Daisy.' This tattoo means a lot to me. Sometimes, when I'm very sad, I do like this. I put my arm with their names close to my heart and feel like I'm next to them.
- When did you get a tattoo?
Silene: Three years after the tragedy.
TOUCHING THE REMAINS OF CHILDREN
- Six years have passed since then. What does the children's room look like now?
Silene: You can see. Here everything is the same as it was then… almost everything: clothes, the bed where they slept. This is Daisy's bag that was returned from the scene of the tragedy. The children burned to death, but it looks like a new one…
- Did you see the remains when they returned them to you?
Silene: It was a small heart-shaped coffin. Coffins of this kind are usually built when young children are buried. All the remains of Bryce and Daisy were there. Very little was left of them. We saw parts of their bodies... It was very important to us. I am the mother and I wanted to touch the remains of my children. That's the last thing I could do. It was very difficult, but I did it.
- Time seems to have stopped in this room…
Silene: It looks like it was the day they left. That day froze here, time stopped... Even the garbage has not been removed yet. I just can't throw it away. Everything here reminds me of Bryce and Daisy. This is still their room, and sometimes it seems that they are about to return. And I say, 'If you want to come back, come back. It's like the day you left this room... It's still your room.'
KNOWING THE TRUTH
- Hearings in the MH17 case started at the Schiphol Judicial Complex on March 9, 2020. None of the four defendants appeared in court in the Netherlands. Dutch lawyers represent the interests of Lieutenant Colonel of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Oleg Pulatov, who expressed a desire to join the proceedings. What do you think about the documents, photos, and videos presented by prosecutors and about the position of Pulatov's defense team?
Silene: We fully and completely trust the Joint Investigation Team. Everything that comes from them is true. I am sure of that and I have no doubt. Alternative theories behind the tragedy were also considered… But we are sure that they not possible, even if Russia denies its involvement in the tragedy and points to Ukraine. We know this is not true. As for Pulatov's lawyers, it was not Pulatov who chose lawyers, it comes from Russia. I am convinced of that. Russia wants to have information and to be able to influence the process.
- Who do you think is to blame for this tragedy?
Silene: Oh, a lot of people, but most of all Putin.
Rob: Putin. He knew everything. People with weapons carry out his orders.
Silene: He created this situation.
Rob: I think that Russia cannot admit it, say 'We did it.' Because if they say 'sorry,' the whole world will know that they were in Ukraine. In particular, I mean the situation with Crimea. And this is a problem…
- In your opinion, what is Ukraine's role in this tragedy?
Rob: Ukraine did not close the airspace, but it is not to blame for other people shooting down MH17. These are two different things…
Silene: Ukraine had to close the airspace, but, on the other hand, the Russian side knew that the sky was not closed and passenger planes were flying. So they had to be very careful when using weapons.
Rob: And they should have known that it was a passenger plane. What is the current situation in Ukraine? Is the war still ongoing?
Drabok: Yes, its.
Silene: It's just awful...
- What do you think about another case? 'Netherlands v. Russia' in the European Court of Human Rights?
Silene: I think it is very good that our state has sued Russia. This is support for us, for families. It makes us stronger. It is important for us to know the truth about why it could have happened, who did it, and how they decided to shoot. We just want the truth. We want perpetrators to be brought to justice. That's all we want.
- During the second block of hearings at the Schiphol Judicial Complex, it was difficult for relatives to hear a lot of information and details of the tragedy. What impressed or excited you the most about what was made public?
Silene: What impressed us is when we saw how the Buk works and realized what happened... I think our children didn't feel anything, it was fast. There was such a powerful explosion that everything had to happen instantly… I hope they didn't suffer. It was as if I saw with my own eyes how it all happened.
- A hearing is currently underway on four suspects…
Rob: Yes, but there will be more of them, and they will reach the top leadership of the Russian Federation.
- What would you like to say to the leadership of Ukraine?
Silene: Please help us find out the truth. Do your best to let us know how it happened...
- What if Putin appeared in front of you?
Silene: The only thing I can ask Putin is to be honest. Everyone already knows who the culprit is, so take responsibility! Be a man!
- Would you like to visit Ukraine?
Silene: Yes, as soon as possible... When we had a meeting with Ukraine's ambassador to the Netherlands, he promised to help us get to the scene of the tragedy. It is very important for us to visit the place where our children died.
Iryna Drabok, The Hague
Photo credit: Sofia Shovikova