In Depth Politics Society, 18/07/2017

Kharkiv Response: MH17 Tragedy Three Years Later

Remembering the events of 2014 helps understand today’s Kharkiv spirits and changes in its residents’ mindset.

Three years ago July 17, 2014, the news of downing MH17 flight with 298 people onboard on the territory occupied by the Russia-backed militants shocked Kharkivites. The post of Russian commandant Girkin who “bragged” about shooting down a plane was deleted soon after the report about Malaysia Flight 17 crash.

In Kharkiv, this announcement and the fact that the terrorists had downed several Ukrainian cargo planes in Donbas in the preceding weeks were seen as grounds to charge Russia-backed militants with the tragedy. Today, when the investigation results stated that Russian Buk was used for shooting, most people only got the official confirmation of their assumption.

Sorrow overflew the city residents who wanted to help those affected by the tragedy. Many Kharkivites tried to express their condolence to the families of the innocent victims. Children wrote letters in English saying “Your pain is our pain,” “Ukraine is mourning with you” which later were transmitted to the Dutch ambassador.

Volunteers started gathering English speaking guides, translators, and psychologists who could meet the families of the killed people. It was evident that Kharkiv was the closest city to Donbas and the victims’ relatives were expected to come to identify the bodies here. However, only European and American journalists and Dutch and Malaysian security officers arrived in Kharkiv. Those days Europe reconsidered the “unrest in Ukraine” as a real lethal ruthless war and suddenly felt the world was not safe any longer.

Somehow or other, the identification process was set to be carried out in Holland. July 22 the first bodies of the Boeing passengers were brought to Kharkiv from Donbas by train. The next day, July 23, they flew to Holland from Kharkiv airport after a solemn farewell ceremony.

July 24, at sunset two symphony orchestras played a requiem for the Boeing 777-200 victims near the Kharkiv Palace hotel on Maidan Svobody, the candles were lit. On a marble pedestal nearby the photos of the victims, people laid the flowers. About 400 Kharkivites, representatives of the regional authorities, and many foreign journalists from Holland, Malaysia, and America gathered there.

The pictures of the sad concert reveal the Lenin’s statue at the background. This is where the local pro-Russian separatists used to gather. Two months later, September 18, 2014, the monument was thrown down. It could have been, apart from everything else, the influence of the MH17 tragedy upon the peoples’ worldview.

Now, when the investigation on MH 17 has been completed, Kharkivites together with the whole world and people who lost their dear ones believe the criminals will be named and punished soon. Still, the tragedy has become the sign of peace fragility and a warning to everyone.

Text: Olena Sokolynska

Photo (July 2014): Olena Sokolynska, Viktoria Sklyarova