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.
The family adorned Jack’s memorial tree with mementos from family and friends — ribbons and knitted scarfs in the colours of his Winston Hills football team, and his beloved Western Sydney Wanderers and Arsenal FC.
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.
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.
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.
Mrs O’Brien said the couple still found it hard to believe their son was gone.
“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.
“We are really conscious that 10,000 Ukrainian civilians have died but the truth matters, the truth matters, that’s what we want.
The O’Briens arrived in Amsterdam just hours before the ceremony. They stayed in Sydney to attend the Arsenal v Western Sydney Wanderers game on Saturday — they had nine months earlier vowed to attend, and bought 16 tickets to share the night with Jack’s friends.
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.
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.
They had previously travelled to the Netherlands in the aftermath of the crash, accompanying their 29-year-old son’s body home to Australia.
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.
Victor was a devout Christian who believed in God, and protecting nature.
He was the youngest of their four children, and is missed every day by his brother and two sisters.
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.
The Oreshkins thanked the Australian and Dutch governments for their care and compassion.
“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.
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.
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.