Three people have been handed life sentences for shooting down flight MH17

The flight was shot down in 2014, killing 298 people.
Three people have been handed life sentences for shooting down flight MH17

Three men have been sentenced to life in prison after a Dutch Court found them responsible for shooting down Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 in 2014, killing all 298 people on board.

The men were Russian-backed figures in eastern Ukraine. None attended the trial, and will need to be found and arrested in order to serve their sentences. A fourth man was acquitted.

Here’s what you need to know.


The Malaysian Airlines plane was shot down by a missile over eastern Ukraine in July 2014 while operating a passenger flight from the Netherlands to Malaysia.

It crashed in Ukraine near the Russian border and killed all 298 people on board, including 38 Australian citizens and residents.

A joint investigation of the crash, which included authorities from Australia, concluded the missile had been fired from an area near the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine by Russian-backed rebels.

Despite the military presence in eastern Ukraine in 2014, it was common for commercial flights to enter the airspace where MH17 was shot down.

Governments including the Australian Government have held Russia responsible. Russia has denied any responsibility.

Who was on trial?

The trial began after a criminal investigation decided to prosecute four Russian-backed suspects involved in the shooting down of MH17.

  • The suspects were:
  • Igor Girkin: The Defence Minister of a group of Russian separatists in Donetsk.
  • Sergey Dubinsky: Girkin’s deputy, and head of intelligence in Donetsk.
  • Oleg Pulatov: Deputy head of intelligence in Donetsk.
  • Leonid Kharchenko: A Ukrainian who led a Russian separatist combat unit in the Donetsk region.

Court verdict

The Dutch Court found there was “no doubt” that MH17 was hit by a missile from a field held by pro-Russia forces.

Girkin, Dubinsky, and Kharchenko oversaw the transport and guarding of the missile to the launch site, and were found responsible for the strike.

The Court also granted over €16 million ($AU24.8 million) in compensation for damages related to the attack.

The prosecution had requested life sentences for all the suspects.

What about Pulatov?

Pulatov, the other suspect in the trial, was acquitted of responsibility for the missile strike.

Despite being aware of the missile’s arrival at the launch site, the Court found Pulatov had no “active or crucial involvement” in striking MH17.

During the trial, lawyers for Pulatov pleaded not guilty to the charges. He was the only defendant represented at the trial.

Australia’s response

In a joint statement, Foreign Minister Penny Wong and Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said the verdict was an “important milestone” to ensure the people behind the attack were held responsible for their actions.

“While nothing can take away their grief, we hope the outcome of the trials brings some comfort to the bereaved loved ones of the victims, 38 of whom called Australia home.”

What’s next?

As they weren’t at the trial, the men will need to be arrested before they can begin their sentences.

International arrest warrants were issued for them in 2019.

As part of its judgement, the Court ordered the arrest of all three men.

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