WATCH ABOVE: Church service for victims of flight MH17, relatives of passengers on downed plane appeal to Putin to return remains.
THE HAGUE, Netherlands – A distraught, grieving mother summed up a swelling mood of despair and anguish in the Netherlands on Sunday at faltering efforts to repatriate the bodies of loved ones killed in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, appealing directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin to return the bodies of her son and his girlfriend.
Silene Fredriksz-Hoogzand, whose son Bryce and his girlfriend Daisy Oehlers were killed when the plane was shot down Thursday over Ukraine, said she was appalled their bodies and those of other victims had been left lying for days.
“I am not a politician,” she told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “But I know for sure that Mr. Putin can do something.”
Earlier, at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, she made a simple, but heart-rending appeal to the Russian President: “Mr. Putin, send my children home,” she told Sky TV. “Send them home. Please.”
International monitors say armed rebels have limited their access to the crash site and Ukrainian officials said armed rebels took 192 bodies away from their workers by force Sunday.
Fredriksz-Hoogzand’s son and his girlfriend were among the 193 Dutch victims of the crash, making this nation of 17 million the hardest hit by the tragedy. The Boeing 777 was flying from Amsterdam to the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur when it was shot down, killing all 298 passengers and crew.
Grief is turning to anger for the Dutch as pro-Russian rebels hamper efforts to recover the dead and investigate the cause of the disaster.
“No words can describe it,” Fredriksz-Hoogzand told AP. “Bodies are just lying there for three days in the hot sun. There are people who have this on their conscience. There are families who can never hold the body of a child or a mother.”
She said she sent Bryce and Daisy on vacation to Bali to get over the grief of Daisy’s mother dying two and a half months ago.
“It’s a tragedy on top of a tragedy,” she said.
Asked Sunday night what delay was acceptable in returning bodies to their families, Prime Minister Mark Rutte replied: “Zero. Nothing is acceptable. All this should be done two days ago. But we are working as hard as possible to ensure a quick repatriation.”
Across the nation, worshippers at church services prayed for the victims of the disaster and their next of kin.
At the St. Vitus church in the central city of Hilversum, Father Julius Dresme described the nation’s pain.
“It’s terrible, and everybody’s hearts are bleeding and crying,” he said. “And it makes (people) restless and people feel sorrow, and feel a little anger but mostly sadness, confusion.”
In Rome, Pope Francis led thousands of tourists and pilgrims assembled in St. Peter’s Square in prayer for peace in Ukraine and the Mideast.
“I invite you to remember and to keep praying for tensions and conflicts which are going on in different parts of the world, especially in the Middle East and in Ukraine,” he said.
Others mourned privately.
At the Amsterdam student rowing club Skoll, a single member sat weeping Sunday as she wrote in a condolence book for two members of the club who died, Karlijn Keijzer and her boyfriend Laurens van der Graaff.
Amid the grieving, Rutte is pushing for Putin to use his influence over the rebels in eastern Ukraine to ensure a full investigation into the tragedy.
He said Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans was on his way to New York to speak to the United Nations and Security Council members “to further expand the international coalition pushing for quick recovery of the bodies and getting to the bottom of the terrible events on MH17.”
A day earlier, Rutte angrily condemned the rebels for interfering with the wreckage and bodies in Ukraine.
“This is totally disgusting. It is also serious because it undermines the investigation,” he said.
Rutte called Putin on Saturday and had what he described as “an extremely intense telephone conversation.”
“I told him the time is running out to quickly show the world that he intends to help,” Rutte said. “He must take the responsibility now with the rebels and show the Netherlands and the world that he is doing what is expected of him.”
Rutte said he planned to speak to Putin again Sunday night.
Bestselling Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf went further in a front-page appeal for decisive action to protect the crash site.
Under the Dutch headline, “Enough is enough,” the paper called for NATO troops to be deployed in Ukraine to secure the wreckage and bodies in eastern Ukraine.
“At the same time, special forces must be deployed to track down the perpetrators of this mass murder and bring them to the Netherlands to face justice.”
Also Sunday, the chief executive officer of Malaysia Airlines, Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, arrived in the Netherlands and signed a condolence book at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport for victims of the crash.
The airline also announced it was “retiring” the flight code 17 of its Amsterdam-to-Kuala Lumpur flights “out of respect for our crew and passengers of the mentioned flight code” and replacing it from July 25 with the flight code 19.
Fredriksz-Hoogzand said her only concern was getting back the bodies of her son and his girlfriend.
“She was such a kind girl,” she said, her voice cracking with emotion. “And she has been murdered, together with my son. They were totally innocent.”