Three men have been found guilty of shooting down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014, killing all 298 people on board.
Russians Igor Girkin and Sergey Dubinskiy and Ukrainian separatist Leonid Kharchenko were convicted of the murders of 298 people and sentenced to life imprisonment in absentia by a Dutch court on Thursday.
According to presiding Judge Hendrik Steenhuis, evidence proved that the Boeing 777 flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was struck down by a Buk missile that was fired by pro-Moscow Ukrainian rebels on July 17, 2014. The wreckage of the crash and the bodies of the passengers were scattered over farmland in eastern Ukraine.
The suspects reportedly worked together to transport the Buk missile system from a Russian military base into Ukraine for its launch.
Hundreds of the victims’ relatives reportedly traveled to hear the verdict in the courtroom.
“I call it a stone in my heart, and stones … don’t disappear,” said Robbert van Heijningen, who lost his brother, sister-in-law and nephew in the crash.
British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said the verdict was “an important step in securing justice for the families of the victims.”
“Two hundred and ninety eight lives, including those of 10 British nationals, were tragically lost on July 17, 201. Thousands more have been devastated in the years since, as family and friends continue to grieve for their loved ones,” Cleverly said. “The downing of MH17 was a shocking violation of international norms which keep our societies safe. It serves as a stark reminder of the human cost of Russia’s actions in Ukraine over many years.”
“My thoughts remain with the families of all those killed in this heinous attack, including people from the Netherlands, Malaysia, Australia, Indonesia, Belgium, Germany, the Philippines, New Zealand and Canada,” he added.
Russian Oleg Pulatov, who was also on trial at the Schiphol Judicial Complex in Badhoevedorp, the Netherlands, was acquitted for lack of evidence. He was the only suspect who was represented by defense lawyers at the trial. His team accused prosecutors of “tunnel vision” for basing their case on the findings of an international investigation while ignoring other possible causes.
“What matters to me is that the truth is revealed. It’s important for me that my country is not blamed for this tragedy,” Pulatov told judges as he insisted he was innocent.
According to reports, none of the defendants attended the trial that began in March 2020, and it is unlikely that they will be serving their sentences any time soon.
While prosecutors had sought life sentences for all four, the suspects have two weeks to file an appeal.
“Important court decision in The Hague. First sentences for the perpetrators of #MH17 downing. Holding to account masterminds is crucial too, as the feeling of impunity leads to new crimes,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky tweeted. “We must dispel this illusion. Punishment for all RF’s atrocities then and now is inevitable.”
Featured Image via ABC News