Dutch town hard hit by MH17 disaster remembers victims with sunflowers


The Dutch town of Hilversum was one of the hardest hit when flight MH17 was shot down over eastern a year ago. Fifteen residents, including three families, were among the 298 on board the ill-fated flight to Malaysia.

A year later, sunflowers grown from seeds taken from a field near the crash site will serve as the focal point of memorial services as the town of 85,000 people remembers those who never returned home.

The Rev Julius Dresme, who conducted the funeral services for the Hilversum victims, has assembled a makeshift shrine to each of them in his office.

“This is a family … a father, mother and two children,” he says, pointing to one photograph. “This is another family, a nephew of parishioners. “They were just married, their child was almost a year old. They were also in the plane, they all crashed. The whole family is dead.”

He recalls the first days after the crash: “In the beginning it was a total shock. Everybody was involved and it was like everybody had family on the plane.”

To Dresme, the victims live on in the sunflowers that grow in front of his large Catholic church, St Vitus, in the centre of town. “The sunflowers bring us back to the crash site, which was full of sunflowers,” he says, walking past by five flowers – one for each Hilversum family that lost members to the tragedy. “They console us a bit, and they give seeds for the future.”

Family members and Hilversum mayor Pieter Broertjes, right, look on as the victims’ bodies arrive in the town in July 2014. Photograph: Michael Kooren/Reuters

The seeds were taken from a field near the Ukrainian town of Torez, where the plane crashed, by a journalist who covered the disaster. Some were passed on to the church and others were entrusted to the city’s chief gardener, Hans Roon, who planted them in Hilversum’s botanical garden.

The seeds from those plants are to be given away at a memorial service at St Vitus on Friday, a year after the crash. “What you see here are the 30 plants that will be taken to the church and given out by the mayor to families of the victims, and the schools and sports clubs [they frequented],” said Roon as he watered the flowers. “[Now] there will always be seeds from Ukraine in Holland.”

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