On 17 July 2014, a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 passenger plane was shot down by a Russian Buk anti-aircraft missile system in the sky over the non-government-controlled area of the Donetsk region.
It was a scheduled flight MH17 from Amsterdam in the Netherlands to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. Three hours into the flight, the plane was hit by a missile. The tragedy killed 298 people. Among them were 80 children.
In terms of the number of deaths, this catastrophe was the biggest in the history of aviation since 11 September 2001. It was among the ten largest of all time.
The tragedy was investigated by a specially created international Joint Investigation Team, which included prosecutors and law enforcement officials from 5 countries: The Netherlands, Belgium, Australia, Malaysia, and Ukraine, as well as representatives of Eurojust. The Netherlands carried out the criminal prosecution, as 193 of the 298 victims of the disaster were citizens of this country.
On 24 May 2018, the head of the international Joint Investigation Team in the Netherlands stated that the plane was shot down by a missile from a Buk anti-aircraft missile system belonging to the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade of the Russian Armed Forces, based near Kursk. On 25 May, the Netherlands and Australia jointly officially blamed Russia for the crash and called on it to take responsibility for the tragedy.
In June 2019, the Dutch prosecutor’s office charged four people with the crash: Russian citizens Igor Girkin (call sign Strelkov), Sergey Dubinsky (Khmury), Oleg Pulatov (Gyurza), and Ukrainian citizen Leonid Kharchenko (Mole), who was a member of the DPR group (pro-Russian and Russia-controlled separatists) at the time.
Volodymyr Tsemakh, a former DPR air defence unit commander in the town of Snizhne, near which the crash occurred, was also suspected of involvement in the downing of Malaysian Boeing flight MH17. In September 2019, Ukraine handed him over to Russia as part of a detainee and prisoner-of-war exchange.
The trial in The Hague began on 9 March 2020. On 10 July 2020, the Netherlands filed a lawsuit on behalf of the state with the European Court of Human Rights against Russia for its involvement in the downing of MH17.
On 17 November 2022, the District Court of The Hague sentenced in absentia Igor Girkin (Strelkov), Sergey Dubinsky and Leonid Kharchenko to life imprisonment. They were found guilty of the downing of the Malaysian Boeing aircraft. Those responsible for the downing of the plane will also have to pay compensation to the victims’ families – more than 16 million euros. The fourth defendant, Oleg Pulatov (a lieutenant colonel in the Russian Airborne Forces in the summer of 2014), was found not guilty.
The court concluded that the military actions of the DPR commanders were coordinated with Russia. In addition, the court concluded that the Buk missile system used to shoot down MH17 was brought from Russia to Ukraine and then taken back.
This trial will not be the last. The head of the International Investigation Team, Fred Westerbeke, said that his group has information about a hundred people connected to the downing of flight MH17. The catastrophe is the subject of several other courts and arbitrations around the world, both at the interstate level and at the level of civil claims.