Three men given life sentences for shooting down flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014


Two Russians and a Ukrainian were sentenced to life in prison for causing the MH17 crash above the Ukrainian region of Donetsk in 2014, killing all 298 on board, The Hague District Court decided on Thursday.

Russians Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinskiy and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko were found responsible for the disaster, Presiding Judge Hendrik Steenhuis said.

Another Russian national, Oleg Polatov, was acquitted of the charges.

The court declared that Girkin, Dubinskiy and Kharchenko must compensate the relatives of the victims a total of €60 million.

The quartet on trial were not present in the courtroom. All at large, they refused to attend the trial, which lasted two and a half years.

Girkin, Dubinskiy and Kharchenko are unlikely to ever serve their sentences. 

The verdict comes more than eight years after the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was blown out of the sky on 17 July 2014 amid a conflict between pro-Russia rebels and Ukrainian forces.

The plane was struck by what the Dutch court established was a missile supplied by Moscow and broke up mid-air, scattering wreckage and bodies over farmland and fields of sunflowers in the Ukrainian region of Donetsk. 

The MH17 crash is the deadliest aircraft shoot-down to this date, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew members on board. Families of many of the victims were present for the sentencing on Thursday.

The flight was codeshared with the Dutch company KLM. A total of 193 victims were Dutch nationals. Australian and Dutch teams were in charge of the investigation.

The missile launcher is said to have come 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.

Girkin is a 51-year-old former colonel in Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB. 

At the time of the downing, he was defence minister and commander of the armed forces of the self-proclaimed Moscow-backed Donetsk People’s Republic. 

Girkin, an outspoken far-right nationalist, is reportedly involved in Russia’s aggression on Ukraine.

The other three men who were put on trial are Girkin’s subordinates. Prosecutors say Kharchenko was commander of a pro-Russia separatist combat unit and took orders directly from Dubinskiy. 

Pulatov is the only one of the suspects who was represented by defence lawyers at the trial, pleading not guilty on his behalf.

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