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A Malaysian air crash investigator inspects the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, near the village of Hrabove (Grabovo) in Donetsk region, Ukraine, July 22, 2014. REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev/File Photo TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY (MAXIM ZMEYEV/REUTERS)
A Malaysian air crash investigator inspects the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, near the village of Hrabove (Grabovo) in Donetsk region, Ukraine, July 22, 2014. REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev/File Photo TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY (MAXIM ZMEYEV/REUTERS)

Globe editorial

Russia’s role in the MH17 ‘accident’ Add to ...

One of the horrors of modern war is its ordinariness. We become so inured to the devastation in some unlucky society halfway round the world that we simply stop paying attention.

But there are telling moments when we can be shocked out of the uncomfortable acceptance of a far-off conflict’s inevitability, and suddenly experience the norms of war as if they were immediate and personal.

When Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile over Ukraine in 2014, killing 298 people, the outrage felt around the world was unbounded. Two years later, a Dutch-led investigation has now implicated the Russian government.

The downing of a foreign airliner was an accident. But it happened because of Russia’s very deliberate actions in Ukraine – namely its fostering of a proxy war in eastern Ukraine, including the transfer of advanced surface-to-air missiles, and their illegal use inside its neighbour’s international border.

The painstaking work done by the investigative team to document the destruction of the airliner, along with its subsequent cover-up, is impressive and deserves commendation.

But at the same time, the ongoing attention we continue to give to the dead of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is a reminder of how easily we can ignore the more everyday devastations of war.

Our disproportionate response would be morally outrageous if it weren’t completely understandable. We identify with passengers on Flight 17 and the randomness with which they met their unintended fate. While doing something commonplace and safe in our world – flying – they were unexpectedly sucked into a conflict 33,000 feet below. Their curtailed innocence, and the ease with which we relate to them, naturally prompts a visceral reaction.

But six miles underneath their flight path, in a conflict that continues to fester thanks to Russian actions, the same violence created hundreds of other victims. The only difference is that the innocent bystanders on the ground knew they were in the middle of a war, while those in the air didn’t.

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