MH17: Dutch court imposes life sentences on three of four suspects

Alexander Chizhenok /

Two years after the beginning of the trial, a court in the Netherlands rendered its verdict in the case of the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014. Three of the four suspects were found guilty and life sentences were imposed. 

On July 17, 2014, a Boeing 777 was flying at an altitude of over 33,000 feet (10,000 meters) above eastern Ukraine. 298 people were killed, including 196 Dutch nationals. 

Judge Hendrik Steenhuis, who was presiding over the trial, confirmed that the weapon that brought down the plane was a Russian-made anti-air BUK missile. This was originally established in 2014 by an independent journalist team named Bellingcat. 

The court also confirmed that the air defense system fired from an agricultural field near Pervomaiskyi, in a pro-Russian controlled area, as previously determined by the International Criminal Investigation Team (JIT) in 2018, which found the weapon was supplied by the 53rd anti-air brigade of the Russian army based in Kursk. 

Four suspects, the Russians Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinsky, Oleg Pulatov, and the Ukrainian Leonid Khartchenko, were tried in absentia. Girkin, a former colonel of the Russian intelligence service FSB, was the self-proclaimed Minister of Defense of the Donetsk People’s Republic at the time of the downing. Dubinsky, a war veteran, was responsible for the separatist intelligence service. Pulatov, his deputy, is a former Lieutenant colonel in the Russian Armed Forces. Khartchenko was involved in a separatist reconnaissance battalion. 

All four senior officers of the pro-Russian separatist faction operating in eastern Ukraine were suspected of having been involved in the transportation of the missile system from Russia to Ukraine. 

Girkin, Dubinsky, and Khartchenko were found guilty of the murder of the 298 people onboard. The court, however, acquitted Pulatov for lack of evidence. 

Referring to the life sentences received by all three suspects, Steenhuis said: “The court found that only the longest possible prison sentences would fit the gravity of the charges.” 


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