THE HAGUE: Families of the victims of flight MH17 marked five years since the crash, with calls for justice for the shooting down of the Malaysia Airlines plane over war-torn eastern Ukraine.
The remembrance services in the Netherlands and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, came less than a month after international investigators charged three Russians and a Ukrainian with the murder of the 298 people who died.
Mourners gathering at the Dutch national monument to the disaster were surrounded by 298 trees – one was planted for each victim – and sunflowers grown from seeds from the Ukrainian fields where the wreckage fell.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte was to address relatives at the memorial in Vijfhuizen, next to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport where the ill-fated flight to Malaysia took off on July 17, 2014.
“At this unique place of sorrow the reading of the names of all victims is again central,” a statement from the victims association said, adding that they would be read aloud by families and friends.
The service was to also feature music, singing and a recital by young people, while Rutte was to start the parade with young relatives by laying flowers at the monument.
The flags of the affected countries will hang at half-mast. One hundred and ninety-six of the victims were Dutch and 36 were Australian,
“On the fields around the memorial, sunflowers bloom again, some of which have been specially grown from the seeds brought from Ukraine,” the statement said.
In Kuala Lumpur, there was to be a minute’s silence at 8pm with some Malaysian relatives of those on board.
A Dutch-led team of international investigators says the plane was shot down by a BUK anti-aircraft missile over part of eastern Ukraine that was held by pro-Russian rebels.
They say the missile originated from the Russian military’s 53rd anti-aircraft missile brigade based in the city of Kursk and was transported there before the tragedy.
The Netherlands and Australia have said that they hold Russia responsible for the shooting down of MH17.
Investigators on June 19 charged four people – Russians Igor Girkin, Sergei Dubinskiy and Oleg Pulatov, and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko – with murder. All are linked to the separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.
Russia has denied all involvement and Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the probe showed “no proof” of Moscow’s guilt.
Australian PM Scott Morrison said in a tweet that his government “remains resolute in holding those responsible for this appalling incident to account.
“Australia has not forgotten that terrible day, we stand firm for the justice that the victims and their families deserve,” he added.
Top EU diplomat Federica Mogherini urged Moscow to help with the ongoing investigation.
“The EU calls on Russia to accept its responsibility and cooperate fully with the ongoing investigation,” she said in a statement.
“The EU expresses its full confidence in the independence and professionalism of the legal procedures that lie ahead.”
Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok meanwhile said he was “thankful for the worldwide support for our joint efforts… to achieve justice. We will keep going”.
However, Malaysia’s support for the probe into the shooting down of its own flag carrier’s plane has been called into question after its Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad called the charges against Moscow “politically motivated”.