Letter to President Putin

2 February 2016

Mr Vladimir Putin

President of the Russian Federation

Moscow Kremlin

Moscow, Russia

Dear President

I am writing about the death of my only son, Jack O’Brien, who was killed on MH 17. Jack was just 25 years old and was returning to Australia from a seven week trip to Europe, which included visits to Moscow and St Petersburg.

I ask of you and your government that the Russian Federation cooperates fully with the continued investigations into the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH 17 over Ukraine on July 17, 2014.

On October 31 last year, Russian families were plunged into horror when a bomb caused the crash of Metrojet Flight 9268 in Egypt. At home we saw the photos of grief stricken relatives waiting for confirmation of the news they dreaded. We know what that is like.

Eighteen months after MH17, my wife and daughter and I still find ourselves waiting for Jack to come home. We read that the parents of a 33 year old woman who died on the Metrojet Flight said, “It feels like our lives are over”.  We understand that feeling.

Though our countries’ cultures and histories are different, we recognise and share the deep love for our children that is common to all people. And we share the deep pain, and anger, when those children are taken from us at the hands of others.

President Putin, after the Metrojet atrocity you were reported as saying of those responsible, “We will hunt them everywhere, wherever they are hiding.” You called on other nations to help in apprehending the perpetrators.

I ask you now to display the same resolve in bringing to justice the people responsible for the shooting down of MH17. It is deeply distressing to our family that your government’s actions in response to MH17 seem more designed to hinder the investigation than to assist it.

In July last year Russia vetoed the UN Security Council Resolution for an international criminal tribunal to be established to investigate MH17.

I understand also that your government has not made the primary radar data of the incident available to the investigation by the Dutch Safety Board (DSB) and stated that the data had not been retained. This seems extraordinary given that claims have been made implicating Russia in the shooting down of MH17. Why then would Russia not make available every shred of data in order to demonstrate its innocence to the world at large?

Earlier on, the Russian state claimed that MH17 had been shot down by a Ukrainian jet. I have not seen any retraction of this statement, despite it being found to be entirely unsubstantiated. More recently, the Russian arms producer Almaz-Antey has recognised that MH17 was brought down by a BUK missile, but disputes the type of missile and the place from which it was fired.

In a recent letter to the Dutch Safety Board (DSB), the deputy head of Russia’s Aviation agency, Rosaviatsiya, reportedly claimed that the DSB report was unsubstantiated and inaccurate. The letter criticises the DSB’s conclusion that the missile was launched somewhere within an area of 320 square kilometres.  But it confidently asserts that, on the basis of ‘a comprehensive experiment’ conducted by Almaz-Antey, the missile could only have been launched from one village – Zaroshchenskoye – conveniently located in territory supposedly held by the Ukrainian government. This shows quite astonishing precision when all other statements from Russia emphasise doubt.

These are but a few examples. Every nation state is guilty at times of bending the truth or withholding information to serve its own interests, yet Moscow’s deception is of a different order.

Your government’s official statements, and even more so the pronouncements of state-sponsored media, have been a litany of denial, distraction and obfuscation. Your government’s explanations for what occurred have changed regularly, with multiple and often mutually contradictory explanations offered at the same time – Flight MH17 was shot down by a Ukrainian jet, by a CIA planted bomb, by a BUK missile (but not one of Russia’s).

These actions suggest a calculated strategy of disinformation that aims to convey the idea that there is no objective truth to be found. The only consistent feature of Russia’s statements has been the lack of reliable evidence and the denial of any responsibility. Some of the claims made by your government and its media would be comical if they were not so deeply offensive to the families of MH 17 victims.

President Putin, I want to state to you very clearly:

  • It doesn’t matter what protestations Moscow makes about how the world is biased against it;
  • It doesn’t matter how many army trucks you had painted white and claimed were full of medical supplies, and not weapons, as they poured into eastern Ukraine;
  • It doesn’t matter how many times you claim your fighters in Ukraine are simple potato farmers or soldiers volunteering while on extended leave;
  • It doesn’t matter what power of veto you have to avoid the scrutiny of a properly appointed international criminal court;
  • It doesn’t matter how many dubious tests Almaz-Antey conducts in a vain effort to show “it wasn’t us”;
  • It doesn’t matter how many fabricated Youtube clips or bogus interviews you allow to be passed off as news about MH17 through your state-controlled media;
  • It doesn’t matter that you have an army of trolls spreading misinformation and any number of conspiracy theories to generate doubt and confusion about what really happened;
  • It doesn’t matter how high your domestic approval rating is purported to be, or how accustomed the Russian people are to living with two truths, or none, in any situation;

None of these things matter, because ultimately there is a truth about what happened. It is the task of the civil and criminal investigations to find that truth within the scope of their separate inquiries. I am confident that both inquiries have been and will continue to be conducted with the greatest care and thoroughness, and observing the highest standards of evidence. I am hopeful that in that process a measure of justice will be achieved for my son Jack and all those killed on MH 17.

President Putin, I ask again that the Russian Federation cooperate fully with the investigations into the shooting down of MH 17 over Ukraine. Otherwise you and your government will be left to the harsh judgement of history.


Yours sincerely


Jon O’Brien

Sydney, Australia

A message to those who shot down Malaysian Airlines Flight MH 17


Our names are Jon and Meryn O’Brien.  We live in Sydney, Australia.

On July 17 last year, in Ukrainian airspace, our only son Jack was killed when Malaysian Airlines Flight MH 17 was shot down. He was 25.

We make this statement on behalf of our son who would be outraged that his life was snatched away, and because it is one thing we can do in response to the evil that has occurred. We do not speak for the families of all the others on board. We don’t know them personally, though we are now bound together by this wilful act of violence.

The passengers and crew on MH 17 were ordinary people going about their lives. Many of the more than 6000 people killed in this undeclared war were civilians, also just going about their normal lives. With their families we share bewilderment and grief at the futile loss of people we love.

It is this grief we want you, the people who shot down Flight MH17, to know about. We want you, and the people who gave you orders and armed you, to be aware of the pain you have inflicted.

In May last year the opportunity came up for Jack to travel. He had saved money from his work in the fitness industry and was able to go. He travelled from Amsterdam around Iceland, and then on to Russia, England and Spain and finally back to Amsterdam. He was on his way home to us after seven weeks away. It had already seemed a long time.

We woke that morning to the news that a Malaysian Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur had been shot down over Ukraine. We cried out in disbelief. That was Jack’s flight. Then came the phone calls and agonising wait while our government officials confirmed what we feared. We heard the news that every parent dreads. Your child is dead.

Jack had so much of life ahead of him. He loved football and had been following the World Cup while he was away. He played with friends in a local team and had done so since he was a boy.

He had finished a degree in business. He had triumphed over health problems that plagued him for more than a year and was studying to become a personal trainer. We had been so relieved at his recovery and proud of our son’s determination and discipline. He also encouraged others to reach their goals. He was embracing life and eager for what was next.

Our joy has turned to sorrow and disbelief.  Our world seems drained of meaning and hope.

Now, nearly a year later, we do our best to get up and live each day, but inside we are broken. We miss Jack so deeply. The unique person he was, is gone. We can only remember him. We will never again see him and know him as he is.

It is heart breaking to think of all the things he might have done that we will not witness.

He will never win a championship with his football team. He won’t ever become a personal trainer. He will never marry or have children of his own. When our beloved daughter, Jack’s sister, marries, he will not be there. She now feels alone, without the promise of that life long relationship and blood connection that only a brother or sister can provide.

For us, grief comes in enveloping waves. At other times there is just emptiness. The yearning for Jack – to hear his car pull up outside, to see him walk through our door- is almost unbearable.

And so we ask ourselves – what happened that afternoon?

Did you intend to shoot down a passenger plane?

If not, why did the missile enter international airspace?  Did one of you make a mistake or was there a problem with the weapons system?

Were you following orders, or had you taken matters into your own hands?

Whatever your reasons for fighting or your belief in the rightness of your cause, how can you justify killing innocent civilians?

How did each one of you feel when you realised you had shot down a passenger plane and saw the bodies of the people you had killed, including 80 children?

We said that Jack would be outraged that his and other lives were taken. We too are deeply angry. Despite this, any revenge, even if we could accomplish it, would be futile. It would just add to the violence and callous indifference that has cost Jack and so many others their lives.

But we do seek justice. We want you, the crew who fired the missile, to be held accountable and dealt with accordingly.

We want your military leaders, who are responsible for your conduct, to be answerable for what happened.

But most of all we want the political leaders who, from a distance, armed you and moved you as pawns on a chessboard, to be called to account for this crime against humanity.

All those aboard Flight MH 17 deserve at least that.