(Vatican Radio) Government officials and relatives have unveiled a memorial in The Netherlands to nearly 300 family members died when a passenger plane was shot down by a missile over conflict-torn eastern Ukraine. It happened Monday on the third anniversary of the crash amid new revelations and international appeals to Russia to support a criminal investigation.
Listen to the report by Stefan Bos:
More than 2,000 relatives gathered here in Vijfhuizen park, near Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, for a somber ceremony. They recalled that 298 passengers and crew were killed when a Malaysia Airlines airplane was shot down during what should have been a routine flight from Schiphol to Kuala Lumpur on July 17, 2014.
Dutch King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima, as well as other government officials, attended the ceremony to dedicate a new memorial to those who died.
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 were planted in the shape of a green ribbon — one for each of the 283 passengers and 15 crew. Organizers call it a "living memorial" and memorial forest.
The trees will be surrounded by sunflowers, which bloom in July and will "radiate a golden glow" over the site, organizers said. Evert van Zijtveld, lost his 18-year-old son, 19-year-old daughter and parents-in-law in the tragedy. "In this amphitheater, you see the memorial forest. In the middle of the wall of this memorial, you see an opening. That allows sunlight to shine through," he told spectators. "Our loved ones together went on a journey on July 17, 2014, and this memorial forest symbolically unites them again," Zijtveld added.
The ceremony was held amid reports that Russia closed airspace up to 16 kilometers high in a nearby region on the eve of the tragedy. An international investigative team concluded last year 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 afterward.
It said the missile was fired from a field in the separatist-held territory. But during a religious ceremony held near the site where the plane came down, pro-Russian separatists denied wrong doing. "We demand an objective investigation into the circumstances of this accident," said Municipal official Alexej Sjvydki. "The junta in Kiev has to be held accountable for all those who died."
Australia has now urged Russia to cooperate with new moves to prosecute suspected perpetrators, who brought down the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine.
But three years on, the investigation is far from being concluded.