Hans de Borst met us in his home in Monster near the Hague. He lives alone in a small house. You can see many photographs of his daughter on the walls, and many of her drawings – even those from her early childhood. The 17-year-old teenager was flying to Malaysia with her mother, stepfather and stepbrother.
In the letter you wrote three days after the crash there was one poignant sentence: “I hope you're proud to have shot my daughter. I hope that you will be able to look at yourself in the mirror tomorrow morning”. You directed these words to Mr. Putin, to the leader of the separatists, and to the representatives of the Ukrainian Government. Will the guilty, which caused this tragedy, be found among these people?
They are the sides directly engaged in the conflict which led to the shooting of the MH17. I don't trust Putin at all, that's why I directed these words mainly to him. He is a dictator in his country that has lied to the public many times on issues that were inconvenient to him. For example after the sinking of the nuclear-powered Kursk submarine. To this day he has not told the truth about that rescue. I think that people in Poland understand this much better than the Dutch people.
How do you perceive Russian cooperation in explaining the causes of this crash? Russia does have their representative at the Dutch Safety Board.
While every bit of help is valuable, in order for this investigation to be credible, I don’t think the Russians should be on this board. I feel the same about the Ukrainians. Their conflict with the Russians can influence this investigation badly. If someone was directly involved in this crash, it would surely impede this examination. It is worth observing what Russian journalists are doing. They already reached conclusions based on what they heard from Moscow. The only important outcome for them is that Russia is not found guilty. It is total propaganda.
What impression did the decimated remains, of this plane, make on you?
It was a very strange feeling. I saw parts of the luggage shelves on which bags and suitcases are put. As if someone would say to me: Hey, look - your daughter sat here. Looking at these scraps of metal makes it hard not to think about it. I bore in my mind that this huge aircraft did not have any chance against the missile, and that aluminum could not shield these people from the explosion.
Also see: THE DUTCH LESSON - A tale of two crashes and two investigations
Black boxes were very quickly recovered and analyzed by the independent experts in Great Britain. Wreckage of the plane was transported back to the country from which it took off for its last journey. All the pieces were painstakingly and carefully reconstructed by the experts. Autopsies were conduced immediately after the victims were brought back to their country.
All the actions were conducted under Prime Minister's emphatic approach and the victims' families were given undivided attention and care by the authorities every step of the way. This is how the Netherlands explain the MH17's tragedy.
Compared to the Smolensk crash the differences are startling.
Were you sure that you wanted to see this wreckage with your own eyes?
I wanted to see everything connected with this crash but I did not want to see my daughter's body. I prefer to remember her like she was in her photos. I wanted to see the wreckage, to make sure that everything is examined and that an investigation was conducted. Moreover, the visitation in the hangar was really well-prepared. The authorities really took care of the families.
Do you think that reconstruction of the wreckage is important?
Everything that is important to the investigation should be done. Everything! Even though it will not bring Elsemiek home, I hope it would help to explain the cause of her death. Every piece of evidence should be considered; not only evidence that it was shot down by a BUK missile system, but also that there was the possibility of an air-to-air missile strike. No hypothesis should be overlooked.
You had to learn how to live again after this tragedy. Who helped you?
Above all I needed to speak with people, friends and family. I also sought help from a therapist whom I see every two weeks. These meetings are the most important to me.
What is your everyday life like these days?
Every day I have to wake up and live in loneliness. I suppose, I didn't go mad, but sometimes I feel as if someone had amputated my arm, or some other important part of my body. Elsemiek was everything to me. She was my world. She was 17 and her head was full of ideas. And then she was blown out of the sky for no reason. At times I wonder if I too, should have been on this plane. Look, there's another Spring around the corner, and the sun is shining. But, there will not be any more shiny days for me ...
Who is supporting you now?
My 81 year-old mother lives nearby. She was very affected by this tragedy. In May my father died. He was 86, and it was expected. But, his granddaughter died only two months later. It was too much. It was something unpredictable, something you cannot deal with. And yet, we have to go on. I am also in touch with Elsemiek's friends. I was in her school a few times recently and I spoke with them. They are preparing themselves for exams. She should have been there too.
Above: MH17 remains are housed in several hangars at the Gilze-Rijen Air-Base.
You didn’t go into hiding and you didn’t run away from people - just the opposite. Did this give you strength?
My new life is comprised of little things, talks, and meetings – sometimes unexpected. A BBC journalist asked me for an interview. When I said that it would be possible after I came back from Newcastle, he was surprised: “Newcastle? You should meet Barry Sweeney.” He contacted us. Barry is the father of the boy, who was a huge fan of FC Newcastle, who also died in MH17. We went to see the game together. During the 17th minute of the game, there was huge applause in the stadium – to commemorate this young fan. It is the same for each game. I felt this applause was also for me. I was moved.
Please, tell us more about Elsemiek.
Above: Amsterdam, November 17th Memorial ceremonies
She was quiet girl, but with a sense of humor. She was a good student. She wanted to study architecture. She had many friends, but she wasn't the type of girl who went to clubs very often. She preferred to meet friends at home. She liked to go to the movies, but she didn't have any strange ideas. I still think of her as a child, but recently, when she turned out 17, this young girl was starting to become a woman. Suddenly it all ended... She was training for running track at a local sport’s club, she often went to the gym, she danced ... At home she played piano and recorded herself playing on her mobile phone. I have so many of her recordings; I can see her face and hear her beautiful music. We had our favorite track together – the theme song from the movie “Amelia”. I played it at her funeral. It was very moving for me and for others who came to say goodbye to her.
Did you have any plans for the future together?
After her return from Malaysia we were to go camping in France or Spain, just the two of us. We wanted to enjoy the sun and beach. Up to now we would only go skiing in Austria. We were there also during our last Christmas in 2013. It was a great time. When I returned there after the accident, near one of the slopes, I put a little plaque on one of the benches with an inscription telling how my daughter died. I said: “Elsemiek, I love you to the moon and back. XXX Dad XXX”. One of my friends asked me if I was allowed to do that? I didn’t ask anyone. I just took the screw driver and screwed it on. This is my tiny monument for my daughter.
Did you receive any help from the government?
A governmental organization called Slachtofferhulp that supports families experiencing tragic events took care of us immediately. A woman from this institution visited us a few times, we talked a lot. I know that I can contact them for any help – financial (which is not necessary) as well as psychological. In November, in Amsterdam, we had a memorial day organized for the victims of the MH17 tragedy. It was a beautiful celebration. We read the names of all the victims; the ceremony was very sentimental. I am very thankful to the Prime Minister for that. There is also a foundation that is supported by the government that takes care of us. This is only part of the help that we can count on.
Are you satisfied with the ongoing investigation?
While, on one hand, I could be disappointed that we still know so little for sure, on the other, I look at the investigation and see that the government tries to do everything very thoroughly. They took considerable risks, and yet brought back the bodies and most of the wreckage from the war zone to Holland. I do understand that it was impossible to bring back the whole wreckage. I do not complain. I really do not want anyone to die while explaining the causes of my daughter's death. What's more, they identified most of the victims. They identified my daughter after three weeks. I also see that cooperation with Malaysia, Australia and Great Britain (where the black boxes are being examined) is really good, there is also great cooperation with the American Boeing experts. I don't have any objections; the experts should be able to do their work.
How do you assess the conduct of the Dutch Prime Minister?
When we had met after the crash, I had a feeling that I saw a really scared man who talked a lot but did not know what to do next. We met again two months later, and it looked completely differently. I could unequivocally say that he is doing a good job. He makes sure that anyone who can assist with the investigation is invited and welcomed to help. He managed to bring back the bodies from the war-zone and by doing so gave the investigators an important piece of evidence. My feelings toward Mr Rutte are very positive. Some people think that he should ask Putin for help, but you know about this type of help. That is why the Prime Minister decided to establish an international investigation.
Have you thought of memorializing the victims by erecting a monument for them?
Yes, the foundation gathering the victims' families is already speaking with the government about it.
Where would such a monument be located?
I think that the Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, in front of the terminal from which they took off, would be fitting. It is also the place where people gathered after the crash of the MH17 and laid flowers. The Dutch people chose this place themselves, so maybe we should respect their wishes?
Thank you for taking the time to speak with us.
Written by: Marek Pyza and Marcin Wikło, wSieci.pl
Translation: Magdalena Czarnecka
Also See "Fog" documentary below to learn what happened in Smolensk on April 10, 2010.
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Remigiusz Mus, the flight engineer on Yak-40 whose landing immediately preceded PLF 101 and whose testimony implicated the Russian flight controllers, died of suicide.
This rounds out the death of the entirety of key witnesses whose testimonies could prove that the flight controllers bore at least partial responsibility for the mysterious crash that killed the Polish President Lech Kaczynski and 95 others near Smolensk, Russia, on April 10, 2010.
Suicide. So says the Polish Prosecutors office under the administration of Donald Tusk, Bronislaw Komorowski, and the Civic Platform party (Platforma Obywatelska, PO) - the people who came out on top following the disaster of Flight PLF 101. The position of the Prosecutors office is that the autopsy indicated death by hanging with no defensive wounds and and alcohol level of one permille (.01%).
General Konstantin Anatolyevich Morev, chief of the Federal Security Services (FSB), successor to KGB, office in Tver, who interviewed the Russian flight controllers, died at the end of August 2011. His body was found in his office. The official cause of death was a self-inflicted gunshot wound from his service revolver. Read more here
"Russian Image Management"
The trip to Smolensk was expected to highlight Russia finally admitting culpability in the massacre, after long having blamed it on the Germans, an atrocity they had tried to conceal for over 70 years.
As for the reception committee, it had different ideas. Putin wasn’t looking forward to such an occasion. Into this poisonous reception brew was President Kaczynski’s well-known public criticism of Moscow and Putin, a habit that has ended the lives of others within Russia – and abroad. A few discouraging Russian requirements – that Kaczynski could not attend in any official capacity – did not halt the Poles. Kaczynski would go anyway on non-official, “personal” business. To Russians, such a distinction would be meaningless, not lessening the possible international excoriation of such an event. A problem ripe for a modern, Russian solution: a tragic, ‘natural’ accident.
Political enemies of Colonel Vladimir Vladimirovitsch Putin are falling ill with mysterious illnesses. It usually happens to them after they escape from their homeland, hoping that nothing bad can happen to them in the West.
The Russian secret service is using various poisons to get rid of inconvenient people, just like during the Soviet times, with the exception that Putin's people have more refined means at their disposal than the assassins of the day sent by Stalin, Khrushchev or Brezhnev. This happens to journalists in broad daylight, so that there is no doubt that anyone can get away scot-free with writing the truth about the atrocities of the Chechen War, or about any score-settling between the people in power.
It started as a possible case of food poisoning but within weeks turned into a grim spectacle of enormous political proportions: Aleksander Litvinenko, former member of the Russian secret service, died in his place of residence London last November, after having been poisoned with a radioactive substance [...] It is a wild tale full of conspiracies, assassination attempts and imputations. Litvinenko talks about his time with the secret service, about his experience in Chechnya, and in particular about the series of bomb attacks on Russian territory that led to the seizure of power by Vladimir Putin.
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