When the World Cup kicks off in Russia next month, the names Tim Cahill, Miles Jedinak and James Troisi will hopefully loom large as the Socceroos go for glory. But there are other Australian names Russians are being urged to think about during the month-long festival of football.
Roger and Jill Guard and Jack O’Brien don’t have nearly the same name recognition as the soccer stars, but their families are hoping to change that.
Roger, Jill and Jack were three of the 38 Australians on board Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 when it was shot down over Ukraine on July 17, 2014.
They were among the 298 who died when the plane was struck by a Russian-made Buk missile fired from a town held by pro-Russian rebels.
Jack, 25, was returning to Australia after a European holiday. His parents, Jon and Meryn, have just written an open letter to the Russian people, as the soccer-loving country is turning its attention to the Cup.
Six other victims’ families have signed the letter.
Published in Novaya Gazeta, one of the few independent news sites in a country not known for celebrating a free press, the letter points to the “shadow” hanging over the big event.
“We are painfully aware of the dark irony that the Russian leaders who will profess to welcome the world with open arms are those who are chiefly to blame for shattering our world,” the family says.
Paul Guard, who has fought to get to the bottom of what happened, signed the letter on behalf of his parents Roger and Jill.
He said it was quite an achievement to get the letter published where Russians may be able to read it.
Importantly, the bereaved families aren’t blaming the Russian people.
“We are not against you. We hold the Russian state and its leaders as ultimately responsible for the deaths of our family members,” the letter reads.
“All the credible evidence points in that direction.
We teach our children when they are small that they must own up to their mistakes and take responsibility for their action. We want our governments to do the same. We ask Russia to do the same.”
To drive the point home, the letter raises the bombing of a Metrojet plane over Egypt in October 2015. Most the 224 people on board were Russians.
“We understand the disbelief, the horror of your loved one’s lives being taken violently without warning,” the letter reads.
“If we ever met those families perhaps we could start a conversation, for we would already know a central truth about each other’s lives.
“In 2014, our children and families lay lifeless amidst the fields and sunflowers of Eastern Ukraine; in 2015, Russian children and families lay lifeless on the stones and sand of the Egyptian desert.
“In death we are no different.”
It’s a sentiment the families hope will ring true with many Russians, as that country prepares to bask in the international sporting spotlight.
For them, this celebration of shared humanity has a much different and darker meaning.