3 Men Guilty of Murdering the 298 People Aboard MH17

Russians and a pro-Moscow Ukrainian separatist were tried in absentia
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 17, 2022 9:00 AM CST
3 Men Guilty of Murdering the 298 People Aboard MH17
Australian and Dutch investigators examine pieces of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 plane crash in the village of Hrabove, Russian-controlled Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine Friday, Aug. 1, 2014.   (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky, File)

A Dutch court on Thursday convicted two Russians and a pro-Moscow Ukrainian separatist in absentia of the murders of 298 people who died in the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine. One Russian was acquitted because of a lack of evidence. Presiding Judge Hendrik Steenhuis said that evidence presented by prosecutors proved that the Boeing 777 flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was brought down by a Buk missile fired by pro-Moscow Ukrainian fighters on July 17, 2014. The crash scattered wreckage and bodies over farmland and fields of sunflowers.

None of the defendants appeared for the trial that began in March 2020 and it’s unlikely they will serve any sentence anytime soon, reports the AP, which notes prosecutors had sought life sentences for all. Dutch prosecutors say the missile launcher came from the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade, a unit of the Russian armed forces based in the Russian city of Kursk and was driven back there after MH17 was shot down. The suspects weren't accused of firing the missile but of working together to get it to the field where it was fired.

The most senior defendant convicted is Igor Girkin, a 51-year-old former colonel in Russia's Federal Security Service, or FSB. At the time of the downing, he was defense minister and commander of the armed forces of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic—the region where the plane was shot down. Girkin reportedly is currently involved in Russia’s war on Ukraine. Also convicted were Girkin's subordinates, Sergey Dubinskiy and Leonid Kharchenko, a Ukrainian who prosecutors say was commander of a pro-Russia rebel combat unit and took orders directly from Dubinskiy.

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The Hague District Court sat at a high-security courtroom at Schiphol Airport. Hundreds of family members of people killed had traveled to the court to hear the verdict, bringing them back to the airport their loved ones left on the fateful day MH17 was shot down. Outside the court, planes could be heard taking off and landing nearby on a cold, gray day. Robbert van Heijningen, who lost his brother, sister-in-law, and nephew, called the downing "an act of barbarism" that he could never put behind him, regardless of the verdict. "I call it a stone in my heart, and stones ... don’t disappear," he said.

(Read more Malaysia Airlines MH17 stories.)

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