“A plane that took off from Schiphol has crashed in the Ukraine.” I told my husband as I saw a pop up from Sky News on my IPad.
“What?” he said, grabbing the remote control to put the television on.
The true horror of what lay behind those uttered words would unfold not only over the following hours but over the three days since. The first reports were that “tientallen Nederlanders” were on board that plane. That in total 298 people were flying to Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam on that plane. That plane which now lay gruesomely broken in thousands of pieces over square kilometres of desolate Ukrainian soil. That plane and everything in it.
298 souls that would never return to their loved ones. 298 people who boarded a plane and never reached their destination.
And then events unfolded that seemed surreal. The plane had been shot down. It was flying over a war zone. Pro-Russian separatists had shot the plane down. The Ukrainians had shot it down. Nobody had the capability to shoot it down. Denials. Blame. But still 298 bodies.
And then tientallen Nederlanders turned into 193. The Dutch Prime Minister stated that this loss of life would invariably mean that many Dutch people would know someone who was affected by this unimaginable tragedy. A friend of a friend. A neighbour. A work colleague. A family member.
This country I call home is a small country. And true enough as passenger details emerged my social media timelines were filled with more and more horror as people I am connected with in some way realised their colleague had lost a family member, that they had lost a former boss, a colleague, a friend. Not just a former boss, colleague or friend but also his entire family, his wife and two small children. A couple from my home town was also aboard. A friend of mine of expatsHaarlem told me that the Dutch couple with two small children were from Haarlem. Antoine and his family were on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 when it crashed on Thursday, 17 July. Antoine was an acquaintance of more people in the expatsHaarlem community. He was for some of them a friend, for some an acquaintance, for two of the writers a former boss, for others a known name as partner of Expatica. My friend herself had just mailed with him some weeks ago, to arrange a coffee date. That coffee date will never occur.
Publishing this article on expatsHaarlem gives me at least the opportunity to express my astonishment, anger, fear and especially my deepest condolences to those who knew Antoine Veldhuizen and were close to him.
There’s a dark cloud hanging over the Netherlands, which becomes darker still as the international media brings stories to light that no family member should ever have to read. Details that remain in my head. Images that turn my stomach. That break my heart. That turn these beautiful sunny summer days dark.
There really are monsters on this earth, despite what I tell my sons, that monsters do not exist, that they needn’t be afraid. But the reality is we should all be afraid. Terrified of what we human beings do to one another. What we are capable of. Time and time again.
I wish I could turn the clock back. Tell that pilot not to fly over a war zone. Tell those passengers not to get that flight. Tell those waving them off to hold their loved ones a little tighter, tell them just how much they are loved. But I can’t. No one can.
What has happened is real. I couldn’t believe it at first. I needed a couple of days to let the news sink in: it is real. The unimaginable loss is real. And I feel helpless. I wish there was something I could do to help those who have lost someone dear to them in a godforsaken place in the Ukraine.
Rest in peace. That’s what we say when loved ones are lost. But I wonder how that is possible in these circumstances. There is no peace to be found in the way these lives were lost. There is no peace to be found in the way bodies are being treated three days after that plane came down. There is no peace to be found as ‘soldiers’ pose with the cuddly toys of the children who will never become adults. There is no peace to be found as personal possessions of the dead are rifled through and stolen. And there is no peace in knowing we as human beings are capable of these actions.
The best we can hope for is justice. And that is by far not enough.
The first version of this article has been published earlier in Expat Life with a Double Buggy
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