A Dutch court on Thursday found three men guilty of the murder of 298 people on board flight MH17, which was shot down by a missile as it flew over Ukraine in 2014.
Russian nationals Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinskiy and Ukrainian national Leonid Kharchenko were found guilty and given life sentences. The court also ordered them to pay more than €16 million in compensation to the victims.
A fourth suspect, Russian Oleg Pulatov, was acquitted as “no evidence” of his involvement was found.
Malaysia Airlines flight 17 was travelling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17, 2014 when it was hit by a surface-to-air missile over eastern Ukraine, at a time of conflict between pro-Russia rebels and Ukrainian forces in the region. All 298 passengers on board were killed, among them 196 Dutch citizens.
The judge also ruled that the missile came from the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine, saying “the court is of the opinion that MH17 was killed by firing a Buk missile from an agricultural field near Pervomaiskyi.” This confirms the earlier conclusions of a Dutch-led international investigation.
Russian authorities have repeatedly denied any involvement in the attack.
However, while the court said the missile was fired deliberately, it ruled it was not intended to hit a passenger plane.
International investigators announced charges against the three Russians and one Ukrainian in June 2019, with the first hearing taking place in March 2020 in the Netherlands.
In 2020, the Netherlands took Russia to the European Court of Human Rights over the MH17 shooting.
None of the defendants ever appeared in court. Prosecutors had sought life sentences for all four. Their legal teams have two weeks to file an appeal.
Hundreds of family members of the victims traveled to the court, located at a high-security courtroom at Schiphol Airport, to hear the verdict.
Peter Neenan, a partner at U.K. law firm Stewarts’ aviation team, which represented around 30 families of passengers, called the verdict “an important step in the families of the victims’ fight for justice, truth and accountability.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also welcomed the court’s ruling, saying “holding to account masterminds is crucial too, as the feeling of impunity leads to new crimes.”