Pain is not a story unless it leads to peace

Who’ll stop Ukraine?
Will it be the pro-Russian separatists who almost certainly shot down the Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 last week, will it be the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, who has supplied the separatists with weapons, technology and advisers, or will it be the media, who are likely to forget the crisis once all the bodies and human remains are moved from the crash site and the fighting resumes civil war proportions. In other words, when the casualties are mostly Ukrainians.
Don’t get me wrong. I am as upset as the Dutch Foreign Minister, Frans Timmerman, Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop and the PM’s Special Envoy, Angus Houston, all of whom spoke eloquently about the terrible tragedy that took place in eastern Ukraine when flight MH17 was shot down, and 298 passengers and crew were killed, including 38 Australians.
Mr Timmerman praised Minister Bishop for her leadership in getting approval for a UN Security Council resolution demanding that the separatists in eastern Ukraine return the victims’ bodies, allow full access to the crash site and an international investigation: “I want to start by wholeheartedly thanking Australia for taking the initiative with this resolution, and especially the personal commitment from Julie Bishop that has made this possible. Without her perseverance, we would not be standing here today with this resolution adopted by the Security Council.”
Tony Abbott has been a resolute world leader – some say better than he was as Prime Minister – from the very beginning of the tragedy: “If it does turn out that this aircraft was brought down by a surface to air missile [which is almost certain], there is no doubt this would be … an unspeakable crime.” Angus Houston, who’s in the Ukraine to look after the return of bodies from Operation Bring Them Home, said: “This is a tragedy of unspeakable proportions.” And Julie Bishop said after looking at the impromptu, moving memorial on the steps of the Dutch Embassy in Kiev: “It is so unspeakably sad.”
It is, but I wish Tony and Julie and Angus would stop using the word “unspeakable” as an adjective or an adverb. I know they’re saying it’s “impossible to express in words,” as the Macquarie Dictionary puts it. But we need to speak about this “unspeakable” crime, and continue to speak about it until we have a resolution. It might be called unbelievable and unimaginable, but I don’t find it hard to believe Putin is behind it all, and I don’t find it hard to imagine pro-Russian separatists would shoot down a plane without checking if it were full of civilians. I think the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister will pursue it to the ends of the earth, or the dark recesses of the Kremlin where the Russian President may be hatching plans to regain parts of Ukraine, defined and ratified in the Budapest Memorandum of 1994. Russia is a signatory to these international agreements, which clearly defined sovereign and independent Ukrainian territorial borders, including Crimea. Of course, Crimea, with a mostly Russian-speaking population, voted to secede from the Ukraine in a referendum in March, which the European Union described as “illegal and illegitimate.” US President Barack Obama told President Putin the vote would never be recognised by the US and the international community, as it was held “under duress of Russian military intervention.”
And that’s why the international community must do all it can to help Kiev stand up to Putin and the pro-Russian separatists, described by some Ukrainians as mercenaries, who are doing their best to divide a proud nation of 46 million people, with a cultural and linguistic diversity similar to that of Australia. It doesn’t mean we have to go to war against Russia. Sanctions and aid for the Ukrainian government, now in political limbo after the resignation of Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, and the collapse of his ruling coalition, are necessary if the EU and the US really want to help end the crisis.
The images of the victims of the shooting down of flight MH17 have been heart-breaking, but we must continue to speak out for the victims of the pro-Russian rebels, supported by Vladimir Putin. Tony Abbott is giving the Russian President the benefit of the doubt in his continued claims that he wants to see the bodies returned home: “President Putin gave me assurances he wanted to see the families of the victims satisfied. He wanted to see, as a father himself, grieving families given closure and, as I say, so far he’s been as good as his word and we want to ensure that he has a further opportunity to be as good as his word.”
Well, it’s nearly impossible for many of us who have watched President Putin over the years to believe he’s as good as his word – it is, after all, the word of a man who was a lieutenant-colonel in the KGB where lying was an occupational hazard. He wants to stay in power as long as he can and he wants to control as much territory as he can.
We must speak out for the families who have to wait for the bodies of their loved ones to come home (AFP photo above of Dutch military personnel carrying coffins to a waiting hearse at an airbase in Eindhoven, the Netherlands), while Julie Bishop and Angus Houston and the Dutch authorities negotiate with the Ukrainian government to allow a large contingent of forensic investigators into a war-zone crash site where more innocent people may die — no matter how many Federal Police or Defence Force personnel are present. The rebels are still in control of eastern Ukraine.
But, of course, the families can speak for themselves, more eloquently than world leaders, politicians, the media and the countless other commentators, including this one. The most poignant tribute came from the Maslin family. Anthony Maslin and Marite Norris, the parents of the three Australian children who were killed on flight MH17, spoke out about the “relentless pain” they are suffering from the deaths of Evie, 10, Mo, 12 and Otis, 8 (whose smiling faces adorn the photograph at the top of this post), along with the children’s grandfather, Nick Norris, 68.
Here’s an excerpt of their message addressed to the “soldiers in the Ukraine, the politicians, the media, our friends and family”:
“Our pain is intense and relentless. We live in a hell beyond hell. Our babies are not here with us — we need to live with this act of horror, every day and every ¬moment for the rest of our lives.
“No one deserves what we are going through. Not even the ­people who shot our whole family out of the sky.
“No hate in the world is as strong as the love we have for our children, for Mo, for Evie, for Otis.
“No hate in the world is as strong as the love we have for Grandad Nick.
“No hate in the world is as strong as the love we have for each other. This is a revelation that gives us some comfort.
“We would ask everyone to remember this when you are making any decisions that affect us and the other victims of this horror.”

And for me, the last line in Sarah Elks’ article in The Australian spoke volumes when the couple asked for privacy from the media: “Pain is not a story.”
We should never bother them again until they are ready to tell their own story.
I just hope the soldiers, the rebels, the politicians and the media allow Mo, Evie, Otis and Nick to come home and rest in peace … and that some of that peace rubs off on a hellhole in eastern Ukraine.

One thought on “Pain is not a story unless it leads to peace

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