Across Europe, Saturday was a day of mourning for the victims of the Malaysia Airlines flight shot down over Ukraine. The flight left Amsterdam last Thursday and was en route to Kuala Lumpur before crashing over Eastern Ukrainian airspace, near the European border with Russia.
One of the smallest countries in Europe, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, suffered the highest number of casualties, with at least 189 Dutch citizens dead. The Dutch government declared Saturday to be a national day of mourning. The scene in Amsterdam was calm, but Dutch government officials were infuriated over the incident. Netherlands prime minister, Mark Rutte, in a telephone conversation with Vladimir Putin, told the Russian leader, “time is running out for you to show the world that you have good intentions, that you will take responsibility.”
Meanwhile, in Moscow, the mood outside the Netherlands Embassy was equally somber, as a steady stream of Russian citizens came to lay flowers and light candles along the Embassy wall. The mourners arrived to express their sympathies with the families of the victims, and it was a solemn reminder that in any part of the world, there can be a difference between the people of a nation and its leaders. Some mourners draped themselves in the red, white, and blue of the Dutch flag, while other mourners wore the gold and blue colors of the Ukrainian flag. Several of the flowers had notes attached, which read “Простите наc,” the Russian language expression for “forgive us.”
Flags flew half mast at several foreign embassies as Europe mourned the victims of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine. Behind the scenes, the Netherlands justice minister, Ivo Opstelten, demanded that international investigators be given access to the crash site. Pro-Russian rebels at the scene have prevented investigators from entering the site of the crash in Eastern Ukraine.
In the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, mourners turned out in large numbers outside the Dutch and Malaysian embassies to pay tribute to the victims and their families. Some mourners stood silently, others lit candles, and many laid wreaths with handwritten messages at the embassy gates. The Dutch Embassy in Kiev has seen a steady flow of mourners since Thursday, when the tragedy was first announced. Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko stated, “I and all Ukrainians grieve for the hundreds of innocent passengers who sadly have become victims of an aggression against us.”
In Melbourne, Ukrainian Australians came to City Square to lay flowers and light candles in memory of the victims. Lydia Gibala, committee member of ethnic group ‘Ukrainians in Victoria,’ told the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper that the group was saddened the war had extended to kill Australians. Melbourne officials said about 70 Ukrainians were in attendance.
Australia lost 28 citizens and eight permanent residents in the incident. Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, traveled with family members to Kiev where he strongly condemned the shooting down of the aircraft. He promised Australians to do whatever they can to ensure “dignity, respect, and justice” for the victims and their families.
All 298 passengers on board perished after the plane was shot down by what many experts believe was a surface-to-air missile. The plane was in a scheduled flight over an area of intense ground battles between separatist rebels and the Ukrainian Army. This weekend, Europe mourned the victims of Malaysia Flight 17 over Ukraine, which brings added significance to Malaysia Flight 370 that disappeared over the Indian Ocean earlier this year.
By Jim Hanemaayer