A Dutch court has found three men guilty of murder for shooting down a passenger jet over eastern Ukraine in 2014, killing 298 people.
The court found that a Russian-made missile supplied from Russia and fired by an armed group under Russian control brought down flight MH17.
The men – two Russians and one Ukrainian – were found guilty in absentia and sentenced to life in jail. A third Russian was acquitted.
The missile attack was 1 of the most notorious war crimes in Ukraine before allegations of atrocities there became an almost daily reality.
Many of the victims’ relatives believe if the world had reacted differently, and taken the tougher stance against Russia eight years ago, the invasion of Ukraine and the particular geopolitical instability that has followed could have been avoided.
The judges ruled that it was a deliberate action to bring down a plane, even though the 3 found guilty had intended to shoot down a military not a civilian aircraft.
- Igor Girkin, the military leader of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, was convicted of deploying the missile and seeking Russian help
- Sergei Dubinsky was found to have ordered and overseen the transport of the Buk missile launcher
- Leonid Kharchenko was found in order to have overseen the Buk, acting on Dubinsky’s instructions.
Oleg Pulatov has been the only one of the four accused to have legal representation at the trial. The judges acquitted him, although they found he knew about the missile.
On 17 July 2014, 298 people, including 80 children and 15 crew, boarded Malaysia Airlines flight 17 to Kuala Lumpur at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport.
The plane was cruising at 33, 000 feet over Ukraine. It was the early days of Russia’s efforts in order to control parts of the country.
At the time this has been a relatively low-level conflict zone, but fighting had recently expanded into the particular air. In the preceding months a number of military planes had been shot down.
In response, Ukraine closed the airspace at lower altitudes – up to 32, 000 feet. But planes were still crossing the particular country.
The particular Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 was flying 1, 000 feet above this restricted airspace.
At 13: 20 GMT, it lost contact with air traffic control.
Of the 298 on board from 17 countries, 196 were from the Netherlands, 43 from Malaysia, 38 from Australia plus 10 from the UK. They had packed for dream holidays, an Aids conference, family reunions and more. In a flash, all plans for the future were obliterated.
“I still miss them, ” says Silene Fredriksz, her walls adorned with snapshots of son Bryce and his girlfriend Daisy. The young couple were heading to Bali, a treat after a difficult year.
Forward to 2022 and Moscow’s attack of Ukraine in February opened up barely healed wounds.
“It had been heartbreaking for us, ” Silene says. She is convinced the current discord could have been prevented had the world taken the harder line in 2014.
“Putin has never been stopped, and still has not been stopped. And he will not stop until he is stopped, ” Silene said. I hope the world wakes up now, because we knew it already eight years ago. inch
Russia has always denied any involvement and instead pumped out a range of alternative theories — suggesting an Ukrainian fighter jet fired the missile, or that Ukrainian government forces were responsible, and in some cases fabricated evidence to support their claims.
These have in turn been diligently debunked with material gathered by a team of international investigators, and they were rejected by the Nederlander court.
The team found the disintegration of the plane inside mid-air was caused by the detonation of a Russian-made 9N314M-type warhead carried on the 9M38M1 missile, launched from the far eastern part of Ukraine using the Buk missile system.
Eliot Higgins, founder from the investigative platform Bellingcat, delved into the open source evidence. His team identified links along with Russia’s 53rd Anti Aircraft Missile Brigade, and trawled through 200 soldiers’ social media posts to confirm the identity and role of many members of the particular unit based at a Russian military barracks in Kursk. Bellingcat shared their findings with Dutch prosecutors. He believes the trial has laid bare indisputable proof of Russia’s involvement.
“I think at this point, plus especially with a guilty verdict, ” Eliot told us, “anyone who would claim that Russia wasn’t involved with this shoot down is really a ridiculous person”.
Based on his findings, Eliot Higgins believes the events associated with 2014 and 2022 are inextricably linked.
“People were just turning a blind eye to it, policymakers simply weren’t comfortable with calling out Russia in the way they really should have done. And they didn’t react in the way that could have prevented the intrusion in 2022. I think there should have been a lot more military support for Ukraine, there should have been more sanctions, there ought to have been a stronger response than we saw at the time. There could have been preventative measures that would have saved a lot of lives. inches
The test has been an opportunity to cut through Russian disinformation. The judges rejected an alternative version of events promoted by Buk missile maker Almaz-Antey as falsified and not independently assessed.
“There was the disaster itself. But the next disaster, I would say, was that Russia never cooperated. And that gave extra pain for all of us. And why was that necessary? Just say sorry, ” Hans de Borst tells us, as he shows us holiday photos associated with his 17-year-old daughter Elsemiek.
He holds tight to the memories, as well as Elsemiek’s passport and boarding pass, recovered intact from your wreckage.
Families at the particular epicentre of the MH17 disaster invested their faith in the investigation led by the Netherlands.
“It is extremely important to me, ” he says stoically, “because it’s that will feeling of justice needing to be done in the world that kills people who just go on holiday. If justice is not really being done then your whole feeling of a good world doesn’t exist anymore. So getting justice brought to you simply by so many people gives a good feeling and I hope, will give some peace regarding this subject. ”
Piecing together clues including intercepted telephone calls, eyewitness accounts and even metal fragments found inside the bodies of the team, investigators were able in order to establish the type of weapon, track its route – from a military barracks in Russia, across the border to the launch site in pro-Russian separatist controlled eastern Ukraine : and identify key suspects.
They are usually three Russians and one Ukrainian. The most prominent of them is Igor Girkin, who prosecutors say is a former colonel in Russia’s intelligence service the FSB.
The particular Kremlin has dismissed the particular legal proceedings and almost all suspects refused to appear in court. Only one, Oleg Pulatov, employed a group of Dutch lawyers to defend him in courtroom.
The judgment is unlikely to result in anyone serving time inside jail for this mass murder, but the investigation has created an incontestable historical record and delivered the families some peace of mind.
“We will never get our children back, inch Silene Fredriksz accepts, “but… we need the truth. Plus we need justice. This is a small part of our justice. inches
MH17: The Search for Truth
Hear more from the families’ on their quest for proper rights.
Available upon iPlayer from 8pm GMT (UK only).