Struggle with grief moves nation to reflect
The floral tribute to MH17 victims at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport. Picture: Mogens Johansen/The West Australian

"It's heartbreaking," says Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop of her private talks with distraught families who lost loved ones on Flight MH17.

Ahead of her return to Ukraine last night, Ms Bishop said she, like many others, had a job to do but the tremendous loss of life weighed on them.

"You just have to spend a moment putting yourself in the shoes of the families and you can't help but be deeply affected," she said.

"This is all about trying to provide some solace to people who are grieving this shocking loss in the most tragic of circumstances."

Bringing the innocent victims home has kept her and others involved focused.

Between high-level political negotiations with foreign ministers and the Ukrainian Government, Ms Bishop has spoken to most of the Australian families shattered by the crash.

She has been back and forth to Ukraine but has not visited the crash site, saying it is a crime scene that should be left to the experts.

But like many others she has laid flowers at a memorial at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, where the doomed Malaysia Airlines flight took off for Kuala Lumpur 12 days ago.

Since the first bouquet was moved from a Malaysia Airlines desk to outside the departure terminal the day after the flight was shot down, the memorial has grown steadily.

Wiping away tears, Michael hugged his partner Anouk as they gazed at the blanket of flowers and tributes honouring victims of the disaster.

The Dutch couple did not know any of the 298 people on the flight but like many others, they were hit hard by the loss of so many from their small, safe country.

Those who do not know someone who was killed often know someone who did.

"There were innocent people, small children, babies on the plane, it's very hard," Michael said. "It's important to show compassion for them."

Ms Bishop said the families she spoke to were inconsolable.

"This incident is particularly harrowing because of the circumstances surrounding the crash and the 24/7 media coverage of what was happening on the site," she said.

"Their grief was clearly being compounded by the way the bodies were being treated.

"Some of the scenes were utterly grotesque, rifling through people's belongings, reports of wedding rings being taken off fingers. It made a very distressing situation so much worse."

Australian families have been comforted by the respect shown in the Netherlands to all 298 victims.

There has been a visible outpouring of grief as thousands line the route of the cortege of hearses from Eindhoven air base to the identification facility at Hilversum.

Flowers also grace the entrances of those two military sites.

At the airport, big bunches of brightly coloured blooms, single stems and pot plants are carefully placed near candles, soft toys and heartfelt notes.

A photograph of Dutch language teacher Dafne Nieveen, who was living in Perth, and a takeaway coffee cup with a love-heart for aerospace engineer Fatima Dyczynski are among the tributes.

A Malaysian family has created a mobile of coloured paper cranes - one for each of the 298 people who lost their lives.

Families welcoming home or farewelling loved ones from trips, travellers and airport staff are all stopping to reflect on the lives lost and write messages of condolence.

Dutch flight attendant Angelique Bouter kissed her daughters Vroon and Pleun as they laid flowers and took in the tributes.

She flew to Panama for work the day after MH17 was shot down over rebel-held eastern Ukraine. The crew had been upset and many on the plane were nervous, she said.

"We could have been on that plane, my family could have been on that plane," Mrs Bouter said.

Her husband Herman added: "It could have been any plane. We have to pay our respects to the people and think about what happened."

Mrs Bouter said looting at the crash site was horribly disrespectful and she was pleased the victims were now being repatriated.

Four ceremonies have been held in the Netherlands to greet the remains of victims on the start of their long journeys home.

Sadly there will be more as investigators retrieve other remains from the crash site.

All those involved in the repatriation have started wearing white wristbands created by Dutch families of MH17 victims.

The inscription "Ik zal je nooit vergeten" translates to: "I will never forget you."

The West Australian

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