'Living memorial' unveiled 3 years after downing of flight MH17
Three years after the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine, the unveiling on Monday of a "living memorial" near Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport gave the victims' families a place to mourn.
The Boeing 777 en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was downed in July 2014 by a missile believed to have been fired by Russian-aligned rebels in eastern Ukraine. All 298 people aboard the flight - most of them Dutch citizens - were killed.
Accompanied by the Dutch King Willem-Alexander and his wife, Queen Maxima, as well as Dutch government officials, 2,000 relatives of those killed gathered in the town of Vijfhuizen to mark the third anniversary of the disaster.
The new commemorative site there features 298 trees - one for each victim - planted to form a "green ribbon" around a four-metre-tall steel wall.
In front of the wall is a steel eye, with the names of those lost engraved on it. Relatives had planted the saplings in the spring.
The so-called "forest monument," designed by Dutch landscape artist Ronald Westerhuis, is also surrounded by sunflowers, which the memorial website says "refer to the sunflower fields in eastern Ukraine where some parts of the plane wreckage were found."
Last year, a Dutch-led team of international investigators and public prosecutors alleged that a Russian missile transported into a rebel-held part of eastern Ukraine was used to shoot down the jet.
Russian authorities have pinned the blame on the Ukrainian military, which has been battling pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine for more than three years.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko marked the anniversary with renewed condemnation of Russia.
"This insolent crime would not have happened if it were not for Russian aggression, a Russian installation and a Russian rocket brought from the territory of Russia," Poroshenko said in a statement.
"Our responsibility before the victims as well as future generations is to prove to the aggressor and terrorist that it is impossible to escape liability for all the crimes it has committed," the Ukrainian leader said.
Poroshenko expressed confidence in the "impartiality" of the justice system of the Netherlands.
In Malaysia, Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai promised justice for the victims and said that July 17, 2014 "will always be in our memory."
"Three years may have passed, but the memories of the passengers and crew onboard will always be with all of us and they will be remembered dearly.
Ten nations have also lost sons and daughters to this tragedy," he said in a statement.
The European Union's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, reiterated the bloc's "deepest sympathy and respect to all those who lost their loved ones" in the crash.
"The tragedy of Flight MH17, in which so many lives were lost, remains a constant source of sorrow and sadness for the European Union," Mogherini said in a statement on the anniversary.
She called for all nations involved in the investigation to assist in any way possible "to ensure that those responsible for the downing of MH17 are held accountable and brought to justice."
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