We were having a coffee in the sunshine when it happened. What sounded like a massive explosion echoed down the city street. Followed by noise like a building collapsing. Everyone froze for a moment, then rushed to find cameras.
Shelling, missiles and guns have been part of my life for the past two weeks. I traveled to Eastern Ukraine to cover the crash of Malaysian flight MH17, a region where war is raging. During a relentless schedule we had relaxed for a few minutes of normality, to drink a coffee. It’s at times like these that death and destruction have the biggest impact.
And it’s only now, having returned home to my family, that what we witnessed is truly sinking in. There were 80 children on board flight MH17. In a field among the debris I found a child’s shoe the same size as my own 2-year-old twin daughters' shoes. The little one who died would have been around the same age as my girls.
Beside the shoe was a toddler’s aircraft seatbelt. My wife and I have already traveled many times with our girls sitting on our laps, just as the children on MH17 would have been doing with their own parents. To think about it is almost unbearable.
There were toys in the fields too. Teddy bears and dolls taken on the flight by moms and dads eager to keep their children entertained over a long journey. I’ve done the very same thing. You need enough familiar things to prevent that parents' nightmare, a mid-flight meltdown. The families on flight MH17 would have been dealing with just such normal concerns when the plane was struck. It must have seemed like an apocalypse.
Arriving home to cuddles with my girls feels as surreal as the crash site did when I first saw it. Why do some of us get to live while others are taken? You can imagine, I am hugging my children a little closer.
Unpacking my case brought back memories of the bags strewn out across the crash site, packed by people with no clue that fate was taking hold of their futures. In the very act of packing they were preparing for a journey that would end in tragedy.
In the days and weeks since Malaysian 17 went down it seemed to me that the human loss at the heart of the crash was partially forgotten. The world fought over who was to blame and soon the forces that shot down the plane began fighting again. Somehow it became more about Russia, America and the West, and less about the innocent passengers on board.
The Malaysian Prime Minister understood; he cut through the politics of it all and negotiated directly with the rebels to get the bodies of the dead transported out. But the Ukrainian military and the pro Russian rebels fought on, hindering the investigators. That tells you all you need to know about the lack of humanity on both sides. This is a region which may decide the future of Russia’s relationship with the West. God help us.
And that explosion we heard while we were drinking coffee? The pro West Ukrainian military had hit an apartment building in the suburbs of Donetsk. A caretaker was killed. Even after flight MH17, innocent people, including children, are dying in Eastern Ukraine.