At last count, there were 193 Dutch citizens among the 298 people who lost their lives when Malaysia Airlines Flight MH-17 was blown out of the sky over eastern Ukraine by a surface-to-air missile.
Shock and grief always accompany disasters like this one. However, the crash of MH-17 has come with its own unique set of tangled complications that have left the Dutch government and the Dutch people seething. The Dutch aren’t known as a hotheaded people, but the images and allegations emerging from eastern Ukraine have this country on a low boil.
Kees Van Dam, a journalist with the Dutch public broadcaster, thumbed patiently through some of the country’s newspapers, translating the headlines. The banner across De Telegraaf, the country’s largest daily, had just one word, “Moordenaars” (Murderers). The headline ran above photos of the Russian-backed rebels who control the region where the plane went down and who are widely suspected of being responsible for bringing down the airliner.
“I think at first they were shocked and just couldn’t believe it,” Van Dam said of his countrymen and their response to the disaster. “After a few days, there was anger.”
The fury and frustration has been fuelled by allegations the rebels have been moving or destroying evidence at the scene of the crash. Armed men have blocked investigators from accessing the site, and there have been grisly stories of bodies being moved haphazardly or left to rot in the sun.
The Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans, during a visit to Ukraine over the weekend, made no attempt to hide the revulsion he and his fellow citizens feel when they hear these stories.
“We are already in shock, but the news we got today of bodies being dragged around, of the site not being treated properly, has really created a shock in the Netherlands,” he said. “People are angry. They are furious.”
But if there is anger, there is also a sense of helplessness.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte has urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to use his considerable influence to rein in the rebels, allow investigators into the crash site and allow victims’ families to collect the remains of their loved ones.
However, there arefears it may already be too late to conduct a thorough inquiry.
Hugh Dunleavy, the commercial director for Malaysia Airlines who travelled to Amsterdam from Kuala Lumpur this week to help provide assistance to victims’ families. has heard the reports and is worried.
“I do believe that with the number of people being into the site and various stories about, you know, bodies being removed, equipment, I’m pretty sure that the crash site has been compromised,” he told CBC News.
Dunleavy wouldn’t venture a guess at how long it might take to recover the bodies, because of the chaotic situation on the ground.
For those in mourning, this is torture, and in a such small country that pain is contagious. Not everyone in the Netherlands lost a friend or family member, but many know people who did. And they may be asking why these people – who had nothing to do with the conflict in Ukraine – had to die.
“Normally, maybe we are reserved,“ Van Dam said. “But not in this case.”
Whether it makes any difference is another matter.
Herman Sal took his daughter to a makeshift memorial at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport this weekend so she could lay flowers for her teacher, Helen Borgsteede, who was killed in the crash.
“I’m angry that this sort of things still happens nowadays,” Sal said, blaming the Russian-backed rebels whom he hopes will face justice.
“These people don’t give a shit about anything. They don’t care about other people’s feelings. They don’t care about shooting down a plane,” he said. “We’ll just see what happens.”