Remembering MH17

Image: Refugees crossing the Mediterranean sea on a boat, heading from Turkish coast to the northeastern Greek island of Lesbos. Photo Mstyslav Chernov/Unframe 2016 Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

July 17, 2015

Today one year ago, above the territory of Ukraine, 298 people became victim in an extremely violent way, in a conflict they had nothing to do with. People who were going on holiday, were visiting relatives, or who went away for work. People full of life, with their ambitions, perspectives and good will; ordinary people with their own unique lives.

It was a terrible shock for Dutch society (the largest amount of casualties since World War II…), but in the first place for their relatives and loved ones. A shock that will not have subsided one year later. Even though the Dutch authorities made great efforts to relocate and identify the victims and pay them their last respects: comfort and support are still very much needed.

In many ways efforts are being made to identify the perpetrators and hold them accountable. As we have seen over the past year, this is not an easy task. we by now. Although the international commission of inquiry has not yet produced a final report and although the Dutch prosecutor’s inquiry hasn’t been finalised, we  know quite accurately what happened. Thanks to different inquiries, from the German secret services to civic journalism initiatives.

The question is whether those responsible will be found and held accountable. The real question is to what extent the Netherlands dare to confront the Russian authorities and face the (political and economic) consequences. Even if no direct command line can be drawn between those who downed MH17, without the Russian annexation of Crimea and their interference in Ukraine’s eastern provinces the chaotic war situation in which the airliner was shot down (most probably by mistake), would not have come into existence.

The conflict in Ukraine is often presented as a power struggle between East and West. That may be the case in the minds of a handful of strategists; clearly provoking language from the NATO headquarters, and threats and saber rattling on the Kremlin’s side do not contribute to a solution and an end to the hostility.

But for a large majority of Ukrainians it wasn’t, and isn’t about East and West. The Maydan revolution in the winter of 2013-2014, which is where the trouble started, was about a choice between a political system of corruption and stagnation and the difficult road to a democratic constitutional state. About equal opportunities and a decent and dignified life for all Ukrainian citizens.

Unfortunately, little of those ambitions have yet materialised. Far over 6,700 people have been killed  in the bloody war that ensued. They, too, left families and friends behind that deserve support and comfort. 2.3 million people had to flee their homes. Ordinary people, just like the passengers of the MH17. People with their own dreams, their work, their family; people who had initially thought this strange conflict has nothing to do with them. They also deserve our attention and compassion. So do the residents of the area where the MH17 crashed. And just as well do those who suffer from the hatred and divisions unleashed by the conflict deserve our support.

They deserve support in their search for solutions to the problems that really matter in Ukraine today. How do we live together in one country, when we speak a different language and have different views on politics and history? How do we overcome the suspicion and build trust between the different camps and regions, between government and citizens? How do we work for a just state and end corruption?

PAX helps to find answers to those questions. 
For example by supporting Olena, a Ukrainian activist. A woman with courage. Together with others, Olena brings groups of people together to overcome mutual mistrust. Those are people from opposed social movements, military priests, they are members of the riot police and concerned citizens, people looking towards Russia and those longing for Europe. Her work isn’t easy and certainly not obvious, since each time a bomb explodes or a missile is fired, the people of Ukraine are driven further apart. Fortunately Olena is not alone. Many people in Ukraine are committed to the same goal, and PAX also contributes where possible.

We also organise a journey across Ukraine for young people, who will meet peers from other parts of the country, with different points of view, and join them in a conversation about shared history, the current conflict and their role in social developments, gaining new insights to take home and share with those around them.

We want to work together with the citizens of Ukraine towards a society where people feel strong, strong enough to take responsibility for their actions. Actions regarding the terrible attack on MH17, and actions working towards a future Ukraine where all can live in dignity, security and justice.

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