More than 2,000 relatives gathered in the Netherlands to unveil a memorial to family members who were killed when a passenger jet was shot down by a missile over conflict-torn eastern Ukraine.
Dutch King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima on July 17 attended the ceremony to dedicate the memorial to MH17’s victims in Vijfhuizen park, near Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam.
Family members read the names of the 298 passengers and crew killed when the Malaysia Airlines jet was shot down during what should have been a routine flight from Schiphol to Kuala Lumpur on July 17, 2014.
Most of the passengers were Dutch but there were people of 17 nationalities on board the Boeing 777, including Australians, Britons, Malaysians and Indonesians.
A total of 298 trees have been planted in the shape of a green ribbon – one for each of the 283 passengers and 15 crew – in what organizers called a “living memorial.” They said the trees will be surrounded by sunflowers, which bloom in July and will “radiate a golden glow” over the site.
Evert van Zijtveld, who lost his two teenage children in the crash, told a ceremony attended by relatives and friends of the victims that they “shall not give up and shall not be silenced until those who are responsible have been brought to justice.”
“Our loved ones together went on a journey on July 17, 2014, and this memorial forest symbolically unites them again,” he added.
The plane was shot down months after the start of a war between Ukrainian government forces and Russia-backed separatists who seized parts of the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk amid unrest that was fomented by Moscow.
The war has killed more than 10,000 people since April 2014, including the passengers and crew of MH17, which crashed in separatist-held territory in the Donetsk region.
An international investigative team concluded in September 2016 that the Russian-made Buk missile system that was used to down the airliner had been brought into Ukraine from Russia shortly before it was shot down and then quickly smuggled back to Russia afterwards. It said the missile was fired from a field in separatist-held territory.
In a statement on July 17, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini reiterated the bloc’s “full support” for continuing investigations into the downing of the plane, saying “it is crucial that the investigators can complete their work, independently and thoroughly.”
Despite voluminous evidence that it has sent troops, weapons, and other support to the separatists, Russia denies involvement in the fighting in eastern Ukraine. It has repeatedly sought to cast doubt on evidence of involvement in shooting down MH17.
“This insolent crime would not have happened if it were not for Russian aggression, a Russian installation and a Russian rocket brought from the territory of Russia,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said in a statement.
“Our responsibility before the victims as well as future generations is to prove to the aggressor and terrorist that it is impossible to escape liability for all the crimes it has committed,” he said.
In a tweet earlier in the day, Mr. Poroshenko said: “We bow our heads before the 298 innocent victims whose heartbeats were stopped by a Russian missile three years ago.”
About 15 relatives of victims demonstrated on July 16 in front of the Russian Embassy at The Hague, protesting what they called attempts by Moscow to block investigations into the disaster.
The demonstrators set a sign in front of the embassy saying: “Waiting for responsibility and full disclosure.”
Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop urged Russia to cooperate with new initiatives to prosecute suspected perpetrators.
In an interview on July 16, Ms. Bishop urged Russia to comply with U.N. Security Council Resolution 2166, authored by Australia.
“That calls on all states to cooperate to ensure that those responsible for the killing are brought to justice,” the foreign affairs minister said. She said suspects may be tried in absentia.
No suspects have been arrested. Dutch authorities have said any eventual trials would be held in the Netherlands.
Copyright 2017, RFE/RL Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington DC 20036; www.rferl.org (see https://www.rferl.org/a/mh17-amsterdam-ukraine-russia-malaysia-disaster/ 28620074.html))