The television coverage from Ukraine, from the crash site of the unfortunate Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, is almost too painful to watch.
It is painful to watch because it reminds us of nearly 300 innocent people who have lost their lives, and who have met painful, frightening deaths when they least expected it.
It is painful to watch, because it is the scene of a tragedy. This should not have happened. This could have been avoided. There was absolutely nothing necessary or inevitable about these deaths.
But it goes further than this. The pain caused by witnessing the crash scene on our screens is made worse by what is going on there. The ‘emergency workers’, who are trampling over the scene, do not seem to be exercising the necessary care and respect which is necessary in the presence of tragedy. The site has not been effectively cordoned off – a necessity given the danger of preserving a crime scene from contamination, but also a necessary step in ensuring respect for the dead who lie there.
The dead have been left to lie there for two days in hot whether. Why? Is this the right way to treat the dead? This lack of care can only make the grief of their relatives worse. Now we are told the bodies are on a refrigerated train, but where is it going, and who is in charge of it? Why are no civil authorities making their presence felt? This must have something to do with the fact that the Donbass region is a war zone. But what about the clergy? Where are they? Why were no representatives of the Church in the field praying for the dead? Why were the clergy not at the side of the refrigerated train? Is there no one at all who can sanctify the place with a prayer?
As for the stories of the way the site has been looted, let us hope that these are just stories. In days of yore, it was common, after battles, for local people to come out of hiding and pick over the dead for what they could take, but it was also common for members of pious societies to gather up bodies, and give them decent and Christian burial; thus it was hoped that a mother of a soldier fallen in a foreign field would at least have that consolation, that some kind person had provided her fallen son with the last offices.
The world is looking at the separatists in eastern Ukraine, and what we see is not reassuring. The camera does not lie.
Back in 1988, one of the most brutal killings took place in Belfast, that of corporals Derek Wood and David Howes, who were stripped naked and beaten to death. Nevertheless, a priest, Fr Alec Reid, was present, and did what he could to help the murdered men, and an unknown woman covered up one of the two men, saying (if memory serves) that the fallen man was some mother’s son. The horror of that scene had a few redeeming shards of humanity in it. But in eastern rebel-held Ukraine, now, what humanity have we seen?