Three busloads of families from outside Holland — including Canadians Sorin and Anca Anghel — arrived at the conference centre in Nieuwegein, Netherlands, today to mark one year since Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine.
For Anca Anghel, it has been a year of hell, missing her only son, who was killed aboard MH17.
"Even after standing by his coffin, we were still hoping it was a mistake," she says. "Even now, I guess. We know he is gone. But we are still hoping."
- Memorial service held in Malaysia
- Russia rebukes push for UN tribunal
- Canadian victim Andrei Anghel's remains ID'd
Andrei Anghel, 24 was the only Canadian among the 298 passengers and crew who were killed when the passenger jet was downed by a missile over strife-torn Ukraine. He was going on vacation with his German girlfriend Olga Ioppa.
Today, Dutch mourners arrive by car, many clutching sunflowers which have become a symbol of the MH17 disaster — as many victims died in sunflower fields in eastern Ukraine.
The 1½-hour memorial service was closed to the media out of respect for those still deeply grieving their lost relatives.
Anca and Sorin, Andrei's father, received two small boxes of his belongings from investigators. They included a sketchbook, battered but intact; his boarding pass, driver's licence, which were undamaged.
And wrapped, painstakingly, in pristine white tissue paper, a shredded piece of his red polo T-shirt, burned and singed.
"I bought him this. And I know he loved it," says Anca, quietly fingering the scrap of cloth.
"It's hard every time. But I understood they didn't know what was happening. I hope it was instant."
At the memorial service, 1,600 families and friends were expected to mark the anniversary.
"We want an apology," says Anca. "Just tell us why. It won't change anything, but we deserve that. All the families who lost their loved ones. All those kids and young people. An apology."
Report due October
At Gilze-Rijen airbase outside Amsterdam, the Dutch Safety Board is in the final stages of reconstructing parts of MH17 from wreckage recovered in Ukraine.
Their report, due in October, will likely identify the type of missile and the launch site, and perhaps who controlled that turf in the ongoing border war between Ukraine and Russian-backed rebels.
A draft copy is already circulating to aviation safety organizations like the International Civil Aviation Organization.
A separate joint team of five countries, led by the Dutch, is tackling the most challenging piece of the puzzle — who did what, and on whose orders?
That group is pulling together significant evidence on one dominant theory: "That there was a BUK rocket fired from the eastern part of Ukraine, the theory in which we have the most evidence," says Fred Westerbeke, the Dutch chief prosecutor.
That conclusion is not a surprise — the U.S. said from the outset that it was a Russian-built BUK surface-to-air missile that brought down the airliner. So did Ukraine. But Westerbeke's team has to prove these allegations in a court.
In an effort to rustle up more witnesses, the joint investigation team put out a YouTube video, with photos, video and voices from intercepted phone calls, many from pro-Russian separatists.
"Sometimes we know the voices and we think we know who they are, but we still have to prove who they really are," says Westerbeke. "We have to use voice recognition and to do that we have to get samples of their voices," a daunting task.
He also noted that investigators haven't interviewed any of these suspects yet, saying they are not at that stage.
No trial a possibility
Still, some of the families believe there's a reluctance to put further pressure on Russia at this point, given the already tense situation between the Kremlin and the West.
And that this kind of international politics will also plague the prosecution.
"I don't know who exactly pushed the button," says Sorin Anghel. "But I really don't see any government in this world going to Russia, going to Putin ….pointing the finger and saying, 'Hey, it's your fault'."
Britain joined Malaysia and Australia today on calling on the United Nations to set up an international tribunal to prosecute MH17. But Russia, as a member of the UN Security Council, would have to agree, and already it has rejected a tribunal as premature.
Anghel brought his young family — Andrei and older sister, Lexi — to Canada from Romania in 1998, partly to protect them from Eastern European politics, he says. "To put as much distance as we could between us and the Russians.
"It didn't work out so well for us." He pauses. "For Andrei."
At this point, those in charge of the investigation have not worked out what the charges might be. War crimes? Murder? There's no agreement, either, on a court venue.
Malaysia wants the UN to set up an international tribunal, but Russia's Vladimir Putin said yesterday that would be "premature" and unhelpful.
Russia has consistently denied it bears any responsibility for the tragedy, and has instead pointed an accusing finger at Ukraine.
"This is a case where politics and law are closely intertwined, it's not just a criminal case," says Geert-Jan Knoops, a Dutch lawyer specializing in international criminal law.
"There is a huge difference between what politicians are saying regarding justice, and reality in court."
"The government [of Netherlands] has a responsibility to give a fair picture to the relatives and victims … and not to set the expectations too high," he says. "There is a scenario there may never be a trial."
Andrei Anghel's parents find it hard to contemplate that scenario, that there may be no punishments.
He was their only son, a gifted, artistic medical student in the prime of his life.
Many nights Sorin and Anghel walk down to Lake Ontario, near their home and rest on a bench dedicated to Andrei. It's where they find a bit of peace from their longing, which has grown every month he's been gone.