FAMILIES of those killed in the MH17 tragedy will gather in the Netherlands on Monday to remember the 298 people who died when their plane was shot down over Ukraine.
Relatives of the 38 Australians who died will be among those who will gather at a park near Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport to mark the three-year anniversary of the atrocity, which happened on July 17, 2014.
A stunning new memorial to the victims, a forest of trees planted in the shape of a memorial ribbon, will be formally opened, and families will remember and honour their loved ones, and inspect the trees planted in their honour.
Dutch royals King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima will lay flowers, and Prime Minister Mark Rutte will attend, while words of consolation and condolence will be read.
The shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight 17 as it made its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was believed to have been carried out by pro-Russian rebels fighting against the Ukrainians near the border, bringing the plane down near the town of Donetsk.
A number of nationalities lost citizens as a result of the atrocity, with 196 Dutch citizens killed.
Australia’s 38 citizens and residents included retirees, a Catholic nun, three young children and their grandfather and young adventurers returning from European holidays.
The memorial forest has been planted with deciduous trees to mark the changing of the seasons, and each tree will carry the name of the person for whom is it planted. An interactive map allows visitors to track the location of each tree, and an amphitheatre in the centre of the forest brings all 298 names together. Thousands of spring bulbs will carpet the forest floor.
The flags of all the nations who lost citizens will be flown at half-mast, and around 2000 people are expected to attend the opening, most of them from the Netherlands.
After Russia — which denies any involvement — used its veto in the United Nations to head off a push for an international court to try the perpetrators of the atrocity, the affected nations agreed the Dutch would prosecute any perpetrators, and Ukraine and Holland signed a treaty to facilitate this.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the Australian Government was providing consular assistance for the families attending Monday’s service, if they required it.
“It’s not co-ordinated by the Dutch government, it’s very much about the families, by the families for the families and we respect that,’’ she said.