Netherlands commemorates 5th anniversary of MH17 disaster

National MH17 Monument in Vijfhuizen, near Schiphol airport
National MH17 Monument in Vijfhuizen, near Schiphol airport. (Photo: Erikt/Wikimedia Commons)

Five years ago today Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board, including 196 Dutch. The victims of this disaster were commemorated at the National MH17 Monument in Vijfhuizen on Wednesday afternoon. 

The commemoration was held at 2:15 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon, and then broadcast on NPO at 6:55 p.m. It was open only to invited guests , including the victims' relatives and friends, and organizations that were involved in the aftermath of the disaster. King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima attended. Prime Minister Mark Rutte was there as representative of the Dutch government. 

The names of the 298 people who died in the disaster were read aloud by their friends and family members. After speaking a few words, Prime Minister Rutte put down flowers at the monument along with young relatives of the victims. Piet Ploeg, chairman of Vliegramp MH17 -the foundation that supports the relatives, also spoke during the commemoration. Around the time of the disaster, a minute of silence was held. 

The national monument in Vijfhuizen was opened two years ago. It includes a forest of 298 trees - one for every person who died when the passenger plane was shot down. The monument is surrounded by a field of sunflowers. These flowers were planted with seeds from the Ukraine. Sunflowers growing at the site of the disaster in eastern Ukraine became a symbol of hope in the immediate aftermath. 

Hilversum also held a smaller-scale commemoration on Wednesday morning. The city lost 15 of its residents in the disaster and played an important role in the aftermath - the victims' remains were taken to a Hilversum barracks for identification. "Life goes on, even though not a day is the same as before the MH17 disaster. We all feel it", mayor Pieter Broertjes said at the commemoration. 

 

THE MH17 CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION:

Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17th, 2014. All 298 people on board, including 196 Dutch, were killed. In June 2019 the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) announced that the criminal trial against the first four suspects in this case - three Russians and one Ukrainian - will start on March 9th, 2020. 

Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinskiy, Oleg Pulatov, and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko are suspected of playing crucial roles in delivering the missile system that shot down MH17. They will be prosecuted for causing the crash and leading to the death of everyone on board. They are also facing charges of murdering 298 passengers and crew members of MH17.

Investigation by the Dutch Safety Board and JIT previously revealed that the Malaysian Airlines flight was shot down by a BUK missile system from the 53rd Anti-aircraft Brigade of the Russian Armed Forces, fired from a field in Ukraine that was under the control of pro-Russian separatists at the time.

In addition to the JIT criminal investigation, the Netherlands is also in talks with Russia about state liability. The Netherlands and Australia officially held Russia accountable for its role in the MH17 disaster - providing the BUK missile system with which the passenger plane was downed. 

According to the JIT, Russia is not cooperating with the investigation into the disaster, refusing to respond to requests for legal assistance. “We now have the information, have the proof, that the Russian Federation is involved in this tragedy, in this crime, one way or another.” Dutch Prosecutor Fred Westerbeke said in the press conference in June. 

Following the announcement of the first four suspects' prosecution,  the Russian Federation denounced the  "biased, one-sided nature of the inquiry". Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus of Justice and Security announced that the Netherlands took "diplomatic steps" against Russia, in an attempt to force the country to cooperate with the JIT.

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