AS THE SUN SET on the calm summer evening of 22 July, a line of forty funeral coaches slowly rolled out from the airport at Eindhoven, a city in the south of the Netherlands. Inside each of the charcoal-coloured vehicles was a wooden coffin containing the remains of a victim of flight MH17, which had crashed five days earlier in eastern Ukraine en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. None of the 283 passengers and 15 crew members survived. Of the victims, 196 were Dutch nationals, making the Netherlands the country most afflicted by the disaster. A crowd of mourners had flocked to the airport to witness the repatriation of this first group of the deceased.
In the minds of large numbers of the Dutch public, there is little doubt that Russia is at least partly to blame for the deaths of their compatriots. Almost immediately after the crash, various sources claimed the flight was brought down by a surface-to-air missile of Russian origin, launched by separatists in the Donbas region. Russia denies any link with the insurgents, and, hampered by the fighting in the area, investigators have been unable to secure evidence that confirms this reading of events. A recent report by the Dutch Safety Board, which has been charged with investigating the incident, carefully avoided the word “missile,” but noted that the aircraft was “penetrated by a large number of high energy objects,” and that “there are no indications that the MH17 crash was caused by a technical fault or by actions of the crew.”
As the procession made its way to a military base where the agonising task of identifying the victims began, it passed even larger crowds of onlookers. Some applauded cautiously as the cars drove by. Others threw flowers, and a few sobbed. It was a rare expression of collective grief in a country not known for public displays of emotion. “This is the only thing I can do to demonstrate my sympathy for the victim’s families,” Sini Reijm, a stout retiree with short blond hair, told me. I asked whether she shared the anger towards Russia. “It is the politicians at the top who are responsible,” she responded, “but you cannot blame an entire country.” Johan Mammen, a warehouse worker also standing at the roadside, accused Russia of murder. “This is a terrible consequence of a war that Russia is obviously fuelling,” he said.