A Dutch court has found three men guilty of the murder of 298 people onboard flight MH17, which was shot down by a Russian surface-to-air missile when it was flying over eastern Ukraine in 2014.
The court handed down sentences of life imprisonment to Russian nationals Igor Girkin and Sergey Dubinskiy and a Ukrainian, Leonid Kharchenko, after finding them guilty of bringing down the plane and the murder of everyone onboard. They were ordered to pay “more than €16m” in compensation to the victims.
The three men responsible remain at large and it remains unclear if they will ever serve their sentences.
A third Russian national, Oleg Pulatov, was acquitted of the charges owing to lack of evidence about his role in the firing of the missile.
In 2014, all four men were fighters for the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, a pro-Russia separatist movement. None of the men appeared in court and only Pulatov chose to appoint lawyers, who pleaded not guilty on his behalf.
The presiding judge, Hendrik Steenhuis, said the court had concluded that MH17 was shot down by a Russian-made BUK missile from an agricultural field in eastern Ukraine, citing extensive evidence that did not leave “any possibility for reasonable doubt whatsoever”.
The court found that Russia had overall control of the separatist forces in eastern Ukraine at the time when the plane was shot down, he said.
The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said it was an important court decision.
In a tweet, he said: “Holding to account masterminds is crucial too, as the feeling of impunity leads to new crimes. We must dispel this illusion. Punishment for all [Russia’s] atrocities then & now is inevitable.”
The verdict caps a 32-month trial that began in March 2020 in a secure courtroom at Schiphol airport, from where flight MH17 took off on 17 July 2014 bound for Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.