It was an exciting day, but Peter van der Meer still slept well all night. “I usually sleep well,” he says at the Schiphol court complex, where he attended the sentencing of MH17. “I took it easy: I got up, had a cup of coffee, and had breakfast. Just some time to myself.”
A “childless father” he called himself last year in a statement from his living relatives. No longer celebrated at Centerclass, Father’s Day is the most terrible day of the year. His daughters Sophie, Fleur and Bent, died at the ages of 12, 10 and 7, on their way with their mother for a holiday in Indonesia.
For more than eight years, the relatives of the 298 victims had to wait for justice. Van der Meer realized that his youngest daughter had been dead longer than she would ever live. Therefore, this afternoon’s judgment arouses mixed feelings in him, as it does in many relatives. “I am happy with the judge’s decision, but I also realize that I no longer have my daughters.”
He is not relieved of his convictions. “No relief. You just walked out of the courtroom and then you stand still for a moment and realize that three have been convicted, but my three daughters are still lost. It never relents, but it helps.”
Thomas Chansman describes the sentiment by saying, “It’s bitter.” “We’ve all lost people, my son Quinn. So happy? No, but glad this verdict has finally come.”
So there is no applause or cheering for the verdict, in fact there is no perceived reaction from the forty relatives in the courtroom, at most a deep sigh here and there. Later in the corridor, there is apparent relief, mutual congratulation and an occasional tear from the 250 patients who were present at the compound in Schiphol.
“I am satisfied,” says Hans de Borst, who holds the ring with which his daughter Elsemiek has been identified. “Any inconsistency from the defense neatly wiped aside.”
“My grief never goes away. I can’t get the thick back. But after going through the whole lawsuit, I think it gives peace. I hope.”
Others remain combative. The judge spoke categorically about Russia’s responsibility for the conflict in eastern Ukraine at the time and for the deployment of the Buk missile. “In fact, Russia is being blamed for this,” says Chansman. “They’re involved, they’re responsible. They can’t hide anymore.”
“The world is watching this verdict,” Celine Fredericks confirms, holding her granddaughter on her arm. “It feels like a confession.” She pulled herself together this morning, lest many charges be dropped. “I didn’t want to be disappointed. But it turned out well.”
Fredericks lost her 23-year-old son, Bryce, and his 20-year-old girlfriend, Daisy, who lived with them. They had to wait 55 days for anything to be known of him, his left foot. It was another 42 days before anything was found of Daisy. When she exercised her right to speak in court, she took their ashes with her.
Her husband, Rob, said at the time that he still couldn’t look at pictures of the two. “I look to the past.” Today he describes them as reassurances that three of the suspects have been found guilty, though he would prefer an acquittal overturned on appeal. He also hopes that the Public Prosecution Office will be able to charge new suspects with these convictions.
“There are always two questions left. Who pressed the button and why? The Bock Crew. And up. This isn’t finished.”
Sander Van Luyck, who lost a brother, is also looking beyond the day’s ruling. “I was never interested in those four suspects; we knew in advance that with these four suspects we couldn’t catch everyone who played a part in this. I was much more interested in finding the truth, and that we knew what happened.”
“It provides tools for further research,” he says. “There are still a lot of questions, but with this ruling we can move forward. We know where to ask the questions.” And he concludes with sadness in his voice: “Three hundred dead are nothing.”
Pete Bloig, the face of the kin group as president of the MH17 Aviation Disaster Foundation, agrees. He explicitly asked the judge to discuss Russia’s role and was not disappointed. He himself lost his brother Alex, his sister-in-law Edith and his cousin Robert.
He is pleased with the meticulous method the judge used to filter misinformation from legitimate evidence. “We know that the truth was established by an impartial and independent tribunal. This is important for all relatives, but also internationally.”
Blog indicates how affected he is by the ruling. Board Fellow Anton Kuti also spoke of an emotional day. He lost his son Oscar, his daughter-in-law Miranda, and his grandson Remko. I took a few minutes to breathe first.
After the first conversations with journalists, he and all his other relatives withdraw to address the verdict together. “There is no cheering, but you are relieved that what you wished for has mostly come true.”
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