Ruth Avnon lost her brother in the MH17 disaster.Image Raymond Rutting

    Ruth Avnon from Woerden: ‘I thought it was very nice that the judge emphasized in the verdict that every victim counts.’

    ‘Sometimes I’m afraid that people are tired of MH17 and say: not MH17 again, eh. While attention should be paid to it. 298 people were killed, including 80 children. Someone has to be held responsible for that.’

    36-year-old Ruth Avnon from Woerden lost her brother Itamar (26) during the MH17 disaster. ‘I remember exactly. I drove by car past the Ikea near Utrecht and heard about the crash of a Malaysia Airlines plane on the radio. In total panic I called my mother. I said: Itamar is dead. She said don’t be silly.

    ‘Later that evening my other brother went to Schiphol. He saw the first images of the disaster on TV screens. Then we were sure. He saw Itamar’s Smurf Blue Samsonite. Burning, among the rubble. I gave him that briefcase.

    It was painful that immediately after the disaster it became clear that Russia didn’t care, that they didn’t take any responsibility. That was hard to digest: someone had killed my brother, and no one was arrested.

    That is why this verdict is important. We can’t get Itamar back with it. But now it is black and white. It was very emotional to hear. Very impressive. Especially when the judge stated clearly right at the start of the verdict: MH17 was shot down by a Russian Buk missile.

    ‘I followed the verdict via the live stream from home. At first I doubted whether I should do that. It’s not that I don’t think the lawsuit is important. But it’s hard to deal with the loss of my brother all the time.

    ‘Actually, I already knew everything that was said. But that this has now been confirmed by a court after a two-and-a-half-year process is very nice. Russia has always claimed that what we thought happened with MH17 was an opinion. No, it’s not an opinion. It is a fact.

    ‘What I also found very nice is that the judge said that they are being convicted of ‘murder, committed several times, namely 298 times’. He emphasized that every victim counts.

    ‘It is of course questionable whether the perpetrators will ever serve their sentences. That remains painful. But the fact that this verdict has now been reached is a big step.’

    Robert van Heijningen Loes van Heijningen.  Image Raymond Rutting

    Robert van Heijningen Loes van Heijningen.Image Raymond Rutting

    Robbert (65) and Loes (56) van Heijningen from Bolsward: ‘The question that still remains unanswered is why.’

    ‘Heavy, very fierce.’ This is how Robbert (65) and Loes (56) van Heijningen from Bolsward experienced the verdict. ‘We were in a room with other relatives. I listened very carefully so that I wouldn’t miss anything,’ says Loes.

    In recent days she walked around ‘with a knot in her stomach’. ‘The last week I have flashbacks again, and I have to think again, for example, of the moment we heard the news in 2014. At the campsite in France. And during the session all kinds of images surfaced.’

    Yet they both also feel relief. “I didn’t expect them to actually be convicted of murder. I found it very exciting’, says Robbert. ‘I don’t mind that one of the four suspects has been acquitted. That emphasizes that the court has looked critically and independently.’

    They have both followed the process for the past two and a half years. ‘But not every session, that was emotionally too heavy’, says Robbert, who lost his brother Erik, his sister-in-law Tina and nephew Zeger.

    Erik (54) was ‘thrown from the plane’ and later ‘found without clothes and without feet in parts on the ground’. ‘Tina (49) and Zeger (17) seem to have flown on for a few more kilometers in the plane that broke into three,’ says Robbert. ‘If it’s good, they didn’t consciously experience it. They then exploded on the ground in the crashed wreckage.’

    Just write that down, he says. ‘Cause it was that horrible. We were able to bury Erik in one go. Tina and Zeger were eventually buried three times, because body remains were found time and time again.’

    The way in which the court spoke about the suffering inflicted on the victims feels like recognition to Robbert and Loes. ‘I heard the emotion in the voice of the presiding judge,’ says Robbert. ‘And that reference was made to the residents in the disaster area, to the people whose bodies suddenly fell from the sky, I also thought it was right. They too have suffered. The current Russian invasion of Ukraine gives this statement an extra meaning anyway.’

    As far as Loes and Robbert are concerned, the verdict is not the final destination. ‘It is rather a semicolon on the gloomy timeline of MH17, because the chance of an appeal is high. But it is an important semicolon. It has now been established what happened and who was responsible. That helps with the grief process, so we can give it a better place. The question that remains unanswered is why. But we may never get the answer to that.’

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