3 get life sentences for 2014 downing of jet over Ukraine
Judges and lawyers view the reconstructed wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, at the Gilze-Rijen military Airbase, southern Netherlands, on May 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, Pool)

SCHIPHOL, Netherlands (AP) — 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 and sentenced them to life imprisonment. One Russian was acquitted because of a lack of evidence.

Against the geopolitical upheaval caused by Russia’s full-blown invasion of Ukraine this year, the court also held that Moscow in 2014 had overall control of the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine, from where it said the attack on the plane was launched.

Presiding Judge Hendrik Steenhuis said evidence presented by prosecutors at a trial that lasted more than two years 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.

In the courtroom, some families of victims blinked away tears as Steenhuis highlighted how their lives were changed forever on that day.

Steenhuis described the torment of family members who had to wait for the remains of their relatives. “A piece of bone from a hand. A piece of leg or a foot. In two cases, no parts of a loved one returned.”

The three men, who can appeal, did not attend their trial at a tightly guarded courtroom on the edge of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, from where the doomed plane left. Prosecutors had sought life sentences for all four. Prosecutors and the suspects have two weeks to file an appeal.

Hundreds of family members of people killed on the plane travelled to the court to hear the verdict, bringing them back to the airport their loved ones left on the fateful day that MH17 was shot down. Outside the court, planes could be heard taking off and landing nearby on a cold, gray day.

The court ruled that the three men – Russians Igor Girkin and Sergey Dubinskiy, and Ukrainian separatist Leonid Kharchenko — worked together to bring the Buk missile system from a Russian military base into Ukraine and bring it into position for its launch.

Relatives said the ruling showed who was responsible for all the deaths on the plane.

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