MH17 Ukraine disaster: from plane crash to murder convictions
A Dutch court on Thursday convicted two Russians and a Ukrainian in absentia over the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in war-torn Ukraine in 2014 and handed them life sentences.
Here is a timeline of the main developments in the case:
– July 2014: Crash, first accusations –
On July 17, 2014, the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 — en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur — crashes in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region where pro-Russian separatist rebels are battling Ukraine forces.
Dutch nationals account for two-thirds of the 298 passengers and crew, along with about 30 Australians and 30 Malaysians, with many victims having dual nationalities.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko calls it a “terrorist act”.
Pro-Russian rebels in the area claim the airliner was shot down by a Ukrainian military jet.
– 2014/2015: Russian-made missile suspected –
The Dutch Safety Board (OVV) is charged with looking into the cause of the disaster.
In a first report in September 2014, it says the plane broke apart in mid-air after being hit by numerous “high-energy” objects.
In July 2015, Russia vetoes a UN Security Council resolution on establishing a special tribunal to prosecute those responsible.
In August, investigators say they have identified fragments “probably” from a BUK surface-to-air missile system, which are used by both Moscow and Kyiv.
– Sept. 2016: ‘irrefutable’ evidence –
Dutch-led investigators say they have “irrefutable evidence” that the plane was downed by a BUK missile, which was transported from Russia to separatist-controlled eastern Ukraine. They do not say who fired it.
– May 2018: Russia accused directly –
Investigators say that the missile originated from a Russian military brigade based in Kursk in western Russia.
They identify two key suspects after obtaining wire-tapped conversations before and after the plane was shot out of the sky.
The Netherlands and Australia say Russia shares responsibility for the disaster.
Russia says no anti-aircraft missile crossed the Russian-Ukrainian border.
– June 2019: four charged –
In June 2019, international investigators charge four people with murder — Russian nationals Sergei Dubinsky, Igor Girkin and Oleg Pulatov and Ukraine’s Leonid Kharchenko — and set a March 2020 date for their trial in the Netherlands.
All four suspects are senior figures in the separatist self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine.
Prosecutors say the four are responsible for bringing the BUK missile system from Russia into eastern Ukraine and positioning it on the launch site, “even though they have not pushed the button themselves.”
– Sept 2019: Key witness handed to Russia –
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky ignores the objections of the Netherlands in deciding to hand over Vladimir Tsemakh, a separatist fighter described by the Dutch as a key witness in the downing of the plane, to Russia as part of a major prisoner swap.
– March 2020: trial starts –
The two-and-a-half-year trial begins on March 2020 in a high-security court close to Schiphol international airport, from where the plane departed. None of the four suspects are present, with Russia refusing to extradite its citizens.
Dutch prosecutors accuse Moscow of casting a “dark shadow” over the proceeding by trying to track down witnesses and hack Dutch and Malaysian authorities.
They say the missile was most likely intended to strike a Ukrainian war plane and call for the four to be sentenced to life in prison.
While the trial is still ongoing Russia invades Ukraine.
– November 2022: three convictions –
The court convicts Girkin, Dubinsky and Kharchenko in absentia of murder and intentionally causing an aircraft to crash and sentences them to life in prison.
Pulatov is acquitted.