At Black Sea crash site, relatives feel left in the dark
Members of the Klinitzky family spent Sunday night in an autopsy room. The family, which lost grandmother Zinaida Tushina, 71, in the Russian airliner crash last Thursday, is described as "lucky" by other families.
Members of the Klinitzky family spent Sunday night in an autopsy room. The family, which lost grandmother Zinaida Tushina, 71, in the Russian airliner crash last Thursday, is described as "lucky" by other bereaved families.
Daughter Ella Klinitzky says identifying Tushina's remains was a very speedy process. "We entered the room, and they showed us the remains of the head-less corpse, and we identified her with near total certainty. No DNA tests were conducted. But it's pretty certain that this was my mother."
Some ten hours later another body was identified, belonging to Adi Kamerie, who flew on the ill-fated Siberian Airlines charter to visit her mother Aliza, who works as a Jewish Agency emissary in Russia. After leaving the autopsy room, her father Shlomo phoned his brother in London.
"It's a miracle from heaven," he exclaimed. "A real miracle. She's completely whole. Just a miracle, a miracle." The mother Aliza couldn't hold back the tears. "We've found Adi, we've found her," she said. "I saw her ear-rings. It's definitely her."
The green ear-rings which Ms. Kamerie loved made the identification process much easier, as did a boarding pass bearing her name that was found on the body. "Today I'm happy, because we are returning our daughter to her home," the father Itzhik said on Monday. "We're returning her home whole. My second daughter Karen has a birthday today, and she received a gift, her sister."
But the poignant sense of closure and relief expressed by these bereaved relatives is far from the normal story. Relatives who have not been able to identify their loved ones speak with vituperative criticism against Russian authorities, and with anger against the Jewish Agency and Israel's Foreign and Absorption Ministries.
The main thrust of their wrath is directed toward their former country which, they say, hasn't changed its ways since the Communist era. "I don't know whether or not they [Russian-Ukrainian authorities] are conducting searches and an inquiry. I want to know who murdered my daughter," said one bereaved mother.
"I don't trust anyone. They'll lie to us. They'll rob and cheat us. I don't trust anyone, certainly not Putin," said Valentina Navrotov, a Russian resident whose daughter Oksana Zeltser immigrated to Israel twelve years ago, and perished last week en route to a visit with her.
Relatives demand that Russian prosecutors provide official documentation establishing that their loved ones were aboard the doomed plane. Under Russian law, such documentation is provided after a six month period, but relatives of the Siberian Airlines crash want this process to be expedited, so that they can move ahead with compensation litigation.
A compromise on this matter appeared in the offing yesterday, as Russian authorities indicated that they would agree to provide copies of the certificates within a week, and the original documents within a month.
Relatives also demand that searches for victims' remains be speeded up, and that work undertaken by an officially appointed Russian investigation committee should not be delayed. Authorities have agreed to let relatives view possessions belonging to their loved ones which have been found near the crash site - but the relatives will not be allowed to take any items at this stage.
Russian authorities may believe they have been quite forthcoming but the anger of bereaved family members continues to boil and many vent expressions of rage against the Russian officials.
"This is a state run by terrorists - no sane country would shoot down a plane in such a way. They can't be allowed to dictate to us their version of what happened - why haven't an adequate number of investigators been brought in from Israel? There are in Israel a lot of experts who can do this work a lot better than these idiots. I am a citizen of the state of Israel; I pay taxes like everyone else, and I demand that the state provide me with support and international redress," said Arkady Nemtsov to Israeli officials.
Striking an entirely different chord, Israeli Foreign Ministry officials praise Russian authorities for their collaboration in efforts to identify victims, and provide assistance to their families. "We are grateful to the Russian side for its work in the investigation of this affair, and its effort in the identification of corpses," said Alik Milman, Israel's diplomatic representative in the region of the plane crash.
The Russians are trying to show sympathy for the dismay and anger felt by mourning family members. Alexander Salatnov, who heads the Middle East department of Russia's Foreign Ministry, met on Monday with the bereaved families, and promised to provide all available assistance.
"We have some of the finest rescue teams in the world," Salatnov said - words met with undisguised skepticism and ridicule in the ranks of some family members. "In parallel, we have turned to the United States and Israel," Salatnov continued, "asking them to send search and rescue units here. We'll be very happy to cooperate with you. I promise you that I won't leave here until we have all the answers as to what happened."
At 8:00 A.M. Monday morning relatives stepped aboard the Russian boat which would take them to the site of the plane crash, 180 kilometers into the Black Sea. The passengers boarded the ship slowly, single file. Most stayed on the deck, staring listlessly at the endless water. Seven hours later, passengers could spot the search scene. Some weren't impressed with what they saw.
"This isn't enough," complained Ilan Allon, who lost his fiance Oksana Zeltser in the crash. "There aren't really search and rescue teams. There are so many corpses, so why is there only one boat involved in the search? The whole area is empty."
In the middle of the mourning ceremony held at sea, Yan Nemtsov, 22, threw in the water a copy of the Book of Pslams which his late mother Marina had given him. "I took the book with me for the journey because I was scared to fly here," he said later.
"I knew that nothing would happen to us because angels are watching us now - but the victims need it down there. I put some money in the book, hoping that it will sink below, and reach those who perished. They are on their way to heaven, and so they are sure to need it."
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