MH17 families hope for justice

MH17 families hope for justice


Every night before bed in the small Dutch town of Vleuten, Evert van Zijtveld lights two candles at a concrete shrine next to his front door to commemorate his murdered children.

Eight years and four months ago, his daughter Frederique, 19, and son Robert-Jan, 18, died along with 296 others when Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot out of the sky over war-torn Ukraine.

Now the 67-year-old is hoping for justice and closure on Thursday in a high-security Dutch courtroom where judges will deliver their verdicts on four suspects who remain at large.

“Those responsible for the downing of MH17 should be sent to prison. If they are guilty, the international community should hunt them down,” Van Zijtveld said in an interview with AFP.

Years later, for Van Zijtveld and others who lost loved ones when the Boeing 777 en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was hit by a missile prosecutors say came from Russia, the loss is still unbearable.

Large photos of Frederique and Robert-Jan adorn the home of Van Zijtveld and his wife Grace, who also lost their own mother, Neeltje Voorham, 77, and stepfather, Jan van der Steen, 71, in the disaster.

A picture shows a smiling Van Zijtveld cuddling his daughter, captured in tragic irony in the departures hall of Schiphol Airport as Frederique left on another journey.

– “Seeking Justice” –

“Angry isn’t the right word,” sighed Van Zijtveld, a tall and elegant Dutchman who has earned widespread respect for his work helping other victims’ families deal with their grief and for establishing a fund for underprivileged children .

“I’m just really sad. My children and my in-laws vacationed in the east of the world. You were hit by a BUK. They were murdered. They were wonderful people.”

Prosecutors say the four suspects – three Russians and one Ukrainian – played key roles in delivering the missile and are asking for life sentences if the men are convicted.

About an hour’s drive east, in the village of Renkum, Sander Essers says he often listens to music to help cope with his grief.

The 72-year-old lost his brother Peter, sister-in-law Jolette Nuesink and their two children Emma, ??20, and Valentijn, 17.

“Some evenings I take some time to listen to my brother’s favorite Brazilian music, think about him and his family and cry,” Essers told AFP.

“For me, the verdict will be the partial end to the quest for justice for my dear family… I hope there will be sufficient legal evidence to reach a verdict.”

– “I can not forgive” –

Both Van Zijtveld and Essers say that whatever the judges decide, the verdict will be a milestone after more than eight years of heartache, often under intense media scrutiny.

Many of the bereaved testified during the trial, which began in March 2020, and gave heartbreaking accounts of the impact of the loss of their loved ones.

“It’s kind of an end, this phase. It’s too difficult to start all over again,” said Van Zijtveld.

He had harsh words for the four defendants, Russians Igor Girkin, Sergei Dubinsky and Oleg Pulatov, and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko.

“They are real cowards” for not appearing in court, he said, his eyes flashing with anger for the first time.

Essers urged those involved in the downing of MH17 to stay clean and said there was no chance of forgiveness until they spoke.

“Open up if you ever want to be at peace with yourself and look at yourself with at least some sense of dignity,” he said when asked what his message to those involved was.

But Van Zijtveld took a harder line.

“I can’t accept it,” he said.

“My children and in-laws were murdered. I cannot forgive them. I can never do that.”

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