The Golden Grass: Four Years On From the Crash of MH17

In the bus on my way to work, right after sunrise, the long-perished grass, waving in the wind like a banner from forgotten times, looks once more alive with a shiny golden glow. Every year, the 17th of July, I think of the shiny golden glow that was left when the dust settled, now four years ago. Silence remained after an unstoppable salvo of gunfire on the steps of Donetsk.

It is the end of the afternoon, and my girlfriend’s best friend became a mother two days ago. Today, on the 17th of July 2014, she is released from the hospital, and we are all going to celebrate in a park on the edge of Kyiv. I am there, far from Amsterdam, for my internship at the Embassy of the Netherlands. The afternoon that Thursday comes to an end and I am about to wrap up my work for the day. And just when I’m about to walk out of the building – it is 17:36h, I remember it to the minute – one of the colleagues who mentored me a lot, calls me over to her cabinet. Since I am on media monitoring duty, she asks me whether I heard anything about a passenger plane crash above Eastern Ukraine. We check some news sources but only see some vague reporting on the website of Russia Today. It is the only site that talks about a crash, so five minutes later I am on my way to the party, a commute of about an hour.

The party is full-on when I arrive, cheerful people are everywhere. Children running around in joy, two very happy new parents are receiving their guests. Beer, wine and other spirits are consumed as is custom with these happy occasions. Not long after my arrival the guy that just became a father comes to me, asking me whether I already heard about the plane from Amsterdam that has crashed in Eastern Ukraine. I remember mumbling some words of disbelief and checking someone’s phone for the news. It takes me a while to realise the gravity of the situation. When I do, I call the Embassy to see whether I can help. I am not needed that moment and just have to come in the next morning, preferably early. The party proceeds as it should, I am in a trance and cannot really understand what is going on.

It is before eight, Friday morning when the sea of flowers confronts me with the tragedy of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17. So many flowers, so many Teddy bears, so many handwritten notes stare at me from the steps of Kontraktova Ploshcha 7. In the night before, thousands of Kyivans paid a visit, regular people, children, the mayor, the lead-singer of Ukraine’s largest rock band. When I arrive on this calm morning, they have been there already. The sight is as impressive as it is daunting; the tragedy is real.

On that first day afterwards, I have the honorable duty to receive people who want to sign the book of condolences. Anyone that wants to can sign the book – from regular people to Ambassadors. With one woman, in her late fifties, I have a small conversation. She expresses her deep grief for the innocent victims and starts crying softly. She tells me her son was killed in action in the escalating war in Eastern Ukraine, that this grieves her, but that it grieves her much more that all these people, who weren’t fighting that war, also got killed in this conflict. Once again, or yet still, I cannot say a meaningful word. I thank her for her kindness and the signing proceeds. In the days after, Ambassadors visit, the Australian and Dutch Ministers of Foreign Affairs visit, the Ukrainian President visits. My internship ends two very long weeks after the tragedy.

When the burning sun of Ukrainian summer turned all the flowers into dead golden grass, when the steps of Kontraktova 7 are swept clean, and I closed the door to the Embassy for the last time, the memories remained. The tragedy never leaves, the pain of people left behind stays. Even the war that killed so many mothers’ boys in action goes on. Time passes by, and while wounds heal, scars remain visible. Only justice, and after justice maybe peace, can make the scars bearable for those who have suffered most. Until then, I will remember, with every golden blade of grass I see. Every day.

– Martijn Groenewold

Feature Image: Shutterstock

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