A Dutch court of The Hague has found three pro-Russian separatists of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) guilty for their involvement in the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, which killed 298 civilians, and have sentenced them to life in prison. The verdict, however, is more symbolic than anything as all three of the convicted suspects remain in separatist held areas of Ukraine and were tried in absentia.
According to Dutch investigators, the Boeing 777 was shot down by a Buk SAM system fired by DPR separatists while en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. After being hit by the missile, the airliner broke up in air, creating a large debris field around Hrabove, Donetsk, that consisted of plane parts and bodies, some of which were still strapped in their seats. All on board were killed.
One of the most prominent suspects that was convicted is Igor Girkin, who was the DPR’s Minister of Defense at the time of the downing and a key figure in Ukrainian separatist movements. Prosecutors argue that Girkin, along with defendants Sergei Dubinsky (former Russian intel officer) and Leonid Kharchenko (separatist leader), bore responsibility for the downing due to their contributions in supplying and deploying the Buk system used. None of those convicted are believed to be the ones who were operating the system at the time of the attack. Girkin and other Russian officials have maintained that they did not shoot down the aircraft.
International arrest warrants are still out for Girkin, Dubinsky, and Kharchenko. Girkin recently returned to Ukraine after volunteering to fight alongside Russian forces during the invasion.
A fourth suspect, former Russian intelligence officer Oleg Pulatov, was acquitted due to lack of evidence tying him to the launch.