Nine years ago, on July 17, 2014 – the Russians shot down a Boeing 777 passenger plane, Malaysia Airlines flight 17 (MH17) over the occupied part of Donetsk region, in the village of Hrabove. About six months earlier, Russia had launched a war against Ukraine, occupying Crimea and parts of Luhansk and Donetsk regions, where military operations were underway.
The world was horrified by the gruesome photographs of the mutilated bodies of passengers scattered over large distances. This tragedy became the largest in the history of aviation in terms of the number of casualties since the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001.
A missile fired from a Russian Buk anti-aircraft missile system killed all the passengers and crew on board – 298 people, including 80 children. The plane was flying from Amsterdam, the Netherlands, to the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur. Among the dead were citizens of the Netherlands, Australia and Malaysia. Families on board, traveling for their holiday.
Russia immediately began to deny any involvement. According to their version, Ukraine was to blame. Following the tragedy, investigations were launched by various European organizations, such as the Dutch Safety Board, the National Bureau of Air Accident Investigation, the Boeing Company, Interpol, and others. The first report, presented in September 2014, stated that the aircraft was in good working condition. Establishing the exact details of the collision with the missile was not easy for the investigation commission.
According to preliminary reports, the destruction of the front part of the aircraft was caused by impacts from numerous small objects moving at high speed. The nose section was destroyed first, while the central and rear parts of the fuselage continued to move forward in their descent.
Grieving Indonesian Yuriah Tanzil (C), sister of Ninik Yuriani, a passenger of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, is comforted by a relative in the family residence in Jakarta on July 18, 2014. PHOTO: AFP
In October 2015, the Dutch Safety Board announced that the plane was shot down by a Buk missile system, with the missile reaching an altitude of 10,000 meters. The system was operated by the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade, a unit of the Russian Armed Forces.
Although the Russians attempted to shift all the blame onto Ukraine, claiming it was a Ukrainian Buk, investigations conducted by Bellingcat and the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) revealed that the missile system was transported to the occupied part of the Donetsk region from the Kursk region on the day of the downing and taken back to Russia the following day.
According to the preliminary version, the Russians shot down flight MH17 by accident. They expended significant efforts and missiles in attempting to destroy Ukrainian military aircraft. To ensure the safety of civilian planes, Ukraine closed the airspace above the conflict zone, limiting it to an altitude of 9,750 meters. However, the Boeing 777 was flying higher, and the Russians mistakenly identified it as enemy aircraft, leading to a targeted attack.
In June 2019, the Public Prosecution Service of the Netherlands named four individuals involved in the MH17 crash. Three of them were Russian citizens: Igor Girkin (also known as Strelkov), Sergey Dubinsky (Khmury), Oleg Pulatov (Gyurza); the other was a Ukrainian citizen, Leonid Kharchenko (Krut), who betrayed his country and sided with the Russians. The first two and Kharchenko were sentenced to life imprisonment by The Hague District Court in 2022. Pulatov was found not guilty.
Igor Strelkov, who is also known as Igor Girkin, the then-top military commander of the self-proclaimed "Donetsk People's Republic", delivers a press conference on July 28, 2014. PHOTO: AFP
Despite Russian propaganda and their attempts to justify themselves, the court also recognized that Russia, which coordinated the actions of its militants in the occupied Ukrainian territory, was responsible for the downing of the passenger plane.
In February 2023, representatives of the Joint Investigation Team said that Russian President Vladimir Putin was also involved in the plane crash, having personally approved the supply of anti-aircraft defense systems to the occupied territory of Ukraine.
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