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MH17 victims' relatives, dignitaries mourn on third anniversary of plane's downing

A commemoration has been held in the Netherlands three years after a Malaysia Airlines passenger plane went down over conflict-ridden eastern Ukraine. A probe into the crash has raised issues of Russia's accountability.

Over 2,000 people solemnly gathered at Vijfhuizen park near Amsterdam's Schiphol airport on Monday to commemorate the third anniversary of the downing of flight MH17, in which 298 passengers and crew members lost their lives. The attendees included family members of the victims, Dutch King Wilhem-Alexander and Queen Maxima, and other international guests and politicians.

Read more: MH17 memorial to 'Dutch 9/11' to give sorrow a location 

Though most of those killed were Dutch, there were people of 17 other nationalities on board the Malaysia Airlines flight, including Australians, Britons, Malaysians and Indonesians.

The flight, which had left Schiphol en route to Kuala Lumpur, crashed on July 17, 2017 in Donetsk, Ukraine, a contested area that experienced heavy fighting between pro-Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists . Dutch-led investigations found that the plane had been downed by Russian-manufactured BUK missiles brought into the war-torn region from Russia by the rebels.

Mourning and action

 "To ensure that those responsible for the downing of MH17 are held accountable and brought to justice, the criminal investigation needs the continuing support of the international community," Federica Mogherini, the EU's foreign policy head, said in a statement.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko used Facebook to demand the Russian government be held accountable for the tragedy.

"It was a barefaced crime that could have been avoided if not for the Russian aggression, Russian system and Russian missile that came from Russian territory," Poroshenko wrote.

Russia has denied the accusations and denounced the investigation's findings as politically biased.

In addition to renewed calls for accountability, leaders also expressed their ongoing condolences.

"The tragedy of Flight MH17, in which so many lives were lost, remains a constant source of sorrow and sadness for the European Union," said Federica Mogherini.

Read more: MH17 crash victims remembered on first anniversary

A memorial to the deceased

The commemoration ceremony included the unveiling of a "living memorial" designed by artist Ronald A. Westerhuis and landscape architect Robbert de Koning. The memorial's design includes 298 newly planted trees - each one bearing the name of a victim - that form the shape of a green ribbon.

The Dutch plant trees for the victims of MH17 crash in Ukraine

One tree for each of the MH17 victims has been planted in the Vijhuizen park - 298 in all

"A tree symbolizes 'hope' and 'future' in many cultures," the association for the victim's families said in a statement. "We not only want to honor the MH17 victims, but also want to create a place where everyone can keep their memories of the 298 passengers alive."

At the center of the trees is an eye-shaped steel sculpture that looks up toward the sky. It is designed to rust over time to symbolize the creeping passage of pain.

Sunflowers, which have been planted around the trees, will "radiate a golden glow" as well as recall the fields of sunflowers that cover fields in the area of eastern Ukraine where wreckage from flight MH17 was found.

Dutch memorial to victims of flight MH17

The memorial to victims of flight MH17 opens up towards the sky

Three years, little solace

Three years on from the tragedy, closure remains elusive for the victims' families. Though more than 100 people are wanted in connection with the tragedy, no one has been arrested to date.

On Sunday, the Australian foreign minister said that suspects may be tried in absentia, while earlier this month, the Dutch government announced that any trials will be held in the Netherlands.

cmb/tj (AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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