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MH17 disaster anniversary brings families to Amsterdam

Serge and Vera Oreshkin, whose son Victor Oreshkin, 29, was killed, at his tree at the new MH17 memorial Vijfhuizen, Holland.
Serge and Vera Oreshkin, whose son Victor Oreshkin, 29, was killed, at his tree at the new MH17 memorial Vijfhuizen, Holland. Franck Bessiere

JACK O'Brien was just 25 years old, returning to his family in Sydney after a seven-week holiday, when he boarded MH17 for what would be his final journey.

His family - mother Meryn, father Jon and younger sister Bronwyn - arrived in Amsterdam yesterday to honour him, walking through the same airport he had walked through three years before.

Jon and Meryn O'Brien with daughter, Bronwyn, at the new MH17 memorial in the Netherlands. Jon and Merryn’s 25-year-old son Jack was killed on MH17.
Jon and Meryn O'Brien with daughter, Bronwyn, at the new MH17 memorial in the Netherlands. Jon and Merryn’s 25-year-old son Jack was killed on MH17. Franck Bessiere.

There were notes, and trinkets from those who loved him, including his two grandmothers.

"We just like we are here on behalf of all Jack's family and friends,'' Mrs O'Brien said.

"So we said if they wanted to send something with us … there were no rules other than it needed to be little so we could bring it.''

Mrs O'Brien shed quiet tears as she looked at a photograph of her son pinned to his tree, his smiling face looking out over the memorial park.

"It's very raw,'' she said.

"Some other Australian families came over at various times early on, especially when the bodies were identified. We didn't do that, so this is a big trip for us, to come back to the airport that Jack left from.''

A memorial tree for 25-year-old Jack O'Brien.
A memorial tree for 25-year-old Jack O'Brien. Franck Bessiere

Mr O'Brien said it had been very hard to walk through Schiphol Airport, as their son had.

"Just to imagine that we were walking through the airport and to think, a bit more than three years ago, Jack was walking through the same airport but in completely different circumstances,'' he said.

"(Jack was) full of hope and expectations of a holiday and then, his whole life ahead of him, at the cusp of all that. For that just to be snatched away, is still really hard to come to terms with.''

Mrs O'Brien said the couple still found it hard to believe their son was gone.

Meryn O'Brien polishes a memorial plaque for her son, Jack.
Meryn O'Brien polishes a memorial plaque for her son, Jack. Franck Bessiere

"Three years on but the level of disbelief is just the same. We get on, we work, we do our stuff, we get out a bit more but you still wake up in the morning and think, 'What happened, and how come Jack didn't come home','' she said.

The pair wrote a powerful letter to Russian president Vladimir Putin, calling for him to co-operate with the international investigation and bring the perpetrators, who are believed to have crossed the border back into Russia, to justice.

Relatives of MH17 victims flowers as they arrive at a service to mark the three-year anniversary of the downing of the plane.
Relatives of MH17 victims flowers as they arrive at a service to mark the three-year anniversary of the downing of the plane. Franck Bessiere

"We are really conscious that 10,000 Ukrainian civilians have died but the truth matters, the truth matters, that's what we want.

"We didn't speak for a long time, we were shell-shocked, but the level of outrage is such we've got to say something.''

An Australian flag flies at half-mast at the memorial.
An Australian flag flies at half-mast at the memorial. Franck Bessiere

Later this week they will return to the park to quietly, privately, place more personal items around his tree.

Mr O'Brien said this would include a packet of soil, dug from the penalty box and from near a memorial bench at Jack's home ground of Winston Hills. His family will dig it into the earth and nurture his tree with the soil from home.

Mrs O'Brien said they would also go to visit the trees of other Australians who they had come to know.

"We could despair and be blinded by it but what's the point of more hatred? That's why Jack's not here now, entrenched hatred.''

VERA and Serge Oreshkin were pleased their son Victor, a horticulturalist, would be remembered in a beautiful garden.

The couple, from New South Wales, came a few days early to Amsterdam so they could build a tiny cactus garden and place it at Victor's tree.

The garden is surrounded by little palings which bear the names of Victor's 13 nieces and nephews.

Mrs Oreshkin said it had been a difficult day, but she believed it would be healing, and make good memories for them.

Serge and Vera Oreshkin, whose son Victor Oreshkin, 29, was killed on MH17.
Serge and Vera Oreshkin, whose son Victor Oreshkin, 29, was killed on MH17. Franck Bessiere

Mrs Oreshkin said that had been a very difficult journey, with four other families who had lost their parents, but she believed ultimately it was helpful for them to heal and reflect.

She said her "beautiful'' son had been visiting family in Europe, and volunteering at a children's orphanage in Lithuania for seven weeks, and was returning home aboard MH17.

"He was happy to be coming home,'' she said.

"He has 13 nieces and nephews and he was looking forward to seeing them. He was missing home. He wanted to organise a big barbecue to catch up with everyone.''

Victor was a devout Christian who believed in God, and protecting nature.

Mrs Oreshkin said he would approve of the beautiful memorial forest.

He was the youngest of their four children, and is missed every day by his brother and two sisters.

"He was just a beautiful person,'' she said.

Mr Oreshkin said his son had been waiting to come home and tell his family all about his travels.

"He said he had so much to tell us and he was waiting to see us,'' he said.

"And he never made it (home.)''

Vera Oreshkin keeps this photo of her son Victor permanently in her wallet.
Vera Oreshkin keeps this photo of her son Victor permanently in her wallet. Franck Bessiere

"He was a very quiet child but when this happened the whole world knew,'' Mr Oreshkin said.

"We had calls from people from Germany and America, people who knew Victor.

"He had so much to live for.''

WILMA and Jack van Duyn came to Amsterdam to pay tribute to Wilma's sister, Yvonne Ryder, and Yvonne's husband, Arjen Ryder.

Yvonne and Arjen, from Albany in WA, were returning from a dream European holiday when they were killed.

Mrs van Duyn said she felt "blessed'' to be able to be part of the ceremony.

"It was a very special occasion,'' she said.

"What I found very good is that we were able to remember everyone. In Australia with both our memorial service in Melbourne and in Canberra the Australians only were remembered. Here, everyone is remembered, and I thought that was very special.''

Mr van Duyn said he had been pleased to catch up with the Maslin family, who had lost their three children and the children's grandfather.

He said he believed it was important to speak out about the tragedy, to keep loved ones' memories in focus, and let family and friends back in Australia see the memorial.

The couple, through their niece, were able to bring native Australian flowers to place at Yvonne and Arjen's trees, which are side-by-side.

"You couldn't just have a rose, it had to be an Australian flower,'' Mr van Duyn said.

Topics:  anniversary disaster editors picks mh17

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