20 Jul 2014

A study in courage – mourning Pim de Kuijer

Pim de Kuijer was 32 and he loved travelling. If anyone could be called a “global citizen” he seemed to qualify with honours. His proud family shows me his photographs – Pim in Mongolia, Malaysia and China. Or surrounded by delighted children in Sierra Leone – the first man they’d ever seen with red hair.

“He wanted an intense life,” observes his brother, Paul. “He didn’t want to sit on a couch.”

The man they describe lived for the causes he cared about: combatting Aids, promoting gay rights, democracy and the rule of law. And the bitter irony of it – Pim worked as an election observer in several countries including Russia and first of all, Ukraine.

“There he started to help people – and he didn’t know that was the place that he should end,” his mother, Yolande, tells me matter-of-factly.

“Him becoming a personal part of this conflict is beyond comprehension,” adds Paul, his younger brother.

The de Kuijer family wants to visit the MH17 crash site immediately but they know that is impossible.

“What is left of him? Is there a bit?” his mother asks. “When I see the pictures on television, that’s the hardest thing.”

“Did he suffer?” his father Hans keeps wondering. “Many people have lost their children,” he says, thinking of Gaza and trying to put his own pain in the widest context he can. “Now it is our turn.”


The family has agreed to talk to me less than 48 hours after a horrific crash which left 192 Dutch dead. They are determined not to be angry, pointing out that it won’t bring Pim back. They say he would have wanted justice, and they feel have to honour the spirit of a man who believed in talking rather than fighting.

Theirs is a study in courage. Though they admit that the de Kuijer household is in a surplus of shed tears – and a deficit of sleep.

As for the last words from a mother to her son, well they were delivered by mobile phone text, just before Pim boarded the plane to Kuala Lumpur.

“I only said I loved him and he texted back I love you too,” says Yolande. “Our son should not be dead. But he is.”

Follow @jrug on Twitter

Tweets by @jrug