THE HAGUE, Netherlands – The families and friends of Dutch citizens blown out of the sky above Ukraine poured out their grief and anger Monday at a meeting with their monarch and political leaders.
“This terrible disaster has left a deep wound in our society,” a sombre King Willem-Alexander said after meeting the next of kin at a private meeting. “The scar will be visible and tangible for years to come.”
The Dutch have widely condemned the way the bodies of the victims have been treated in Ukraine and the fact they have not yet been returned home, four days after the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 killed 298 passengers and crew, including 193 Dutch citizens.
In an unusual move that underscored the severity of the national trauma, the king gave a brief televised address to the country after meeting hundreds of grieving relatives and friends of the dead near the central city of Utrecht.
“Many people said to us, ‘We at least want to take dignified leave of our loved ones,'” he said. “We understand their frustration and their pain. And we share their heartfelt wish for clarity on the cause of this disaster.”
Speaking after the same meeting, Prime Minister Mark Rutte also acknowledged the nation’s discontent.
“All of the Netherlands feels their anger,” Rutte said. “All of the Netherlands feels their deep grief. All of the Netherlands is standing with the next of kin.”
Victor Jammers, policy director of the organization Victim Support Netherlands, also was in the meeting. He said relatives were angry at being kept in the dark.
“The people I spoke to direct their anger of course to the Ukraine and to Russia, to give you an example, but there is also anger toward the Dutch government, because relatives wanted more information than they got in the past days,” he said.
One of the questions many are asking is: Will the perpetrators face justice?
Prosecutors in the Netherlands said they have begun a criminal investigation, though it remains unclear exactly where any suspects might face a court, if they can be tracked down.
One relative who said she was going to the meeting was Silene Fredriksz-Hoogzand, whose son Bryce and his girlfriend Daisy Oehlers died on their way to a vacation in Bali.
She expressed disbelief Sunday at how the bodies have been treated.
“Bodies are just lying there for three days in the hot sun,” she told The Associated Press. “There are people who have this on their conscience. There are families who can never hold the body of a child or a mother.”
Before meeting the families, Rutte briefed lawmakers who had hurried back from their summer recess. He told them that getting the bodies home as soon as possible was his government’s top priority. He said a Dutch military transport plane is ready to repatriate the remains, which are now being stored in a refrigerated train in a rebel-held town.
“If the train finally gets going and the bodies get to Ukraine-controlled territory then we would prefer — and a Hercules is ready at Kharkiv airport — to get the bodies back to the Netherlands as soon as possible,” Rutte said.
The train set off at the end of the day, its destination not immediately known.
Right-wing lawmaker Louis Bontes urged the government to send Dutch special forces to secure the crash site.
“This messing around with our people can go on no longer,” he said. “Our people must be brought home now.”
Rutte said he has made it “crystal clear” to Russian President Vladimir Putin that he must use his influence with rebels to ensure unhindered access to the crash scene for international investigators. He says sanctions could be slapped on “those directly or indirectly responsible” for hindering the probe.
“All political, economic and financial options are on the table,” he said.
He also said he wants to ensure the perpetrators of the attack are brought to justice.
Dutch national prosecutor’s office spokesman Wim de Bruin said the organization is investigating “allegations of murder, war crimes and downing a civilian passenger plane.”
The charges carry a maximum life sentence if proven in Dutch courts.
De Bruin said one Dutch prosecutor is already in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, to work with prosecutors there on the case.
There is no formal day of national mourning yet for the victims, but across the country local commemorations are being held.
Hundreds of mourners, including popular chefs and the city’s mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb, walked silently in pouring rain through Rotterdam on Monday night to commemorate a couple who ran a popular Chinese restaurant in the port city. In Amsterdam, a handful of people gathered behind the city’s iconic Rijksmuseum to hold a minute of silence.
Fredriksz-Hoogzand said her grief for her son and his girlfriend was overwhelming.
“When I am in my bed at night, I see my son lying on the ground,” she told The Associated Press. “I see Daisy. I see Bryce. I see them in my head. I see it! They have to come home, not only those two. Everybody has to come home.”
King Willem-Alexander said all he and his wife Maxima could do was listen to the stories and be there for the relatives.
“We are deeply touched by the distressing personal stories of people who lost loved ones. People whose lives are shattered,” he said. “Their grief, powerlessness and desperation cuts to our souls.”