'We did it!': Eight-year wait for justice ends for families of MH17 victims

'We did it!': Eight-year wait for justice ends for families of MH17 victims

Updated: 15 days, 42 minutes, 32 seconds ago

It is more then eight years since a passenger plane fell from the skies over Ukraine, killing every one of the 298 people on board.

It was mid-afternoon on July 17, 2014, and Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was three hours into its journey from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpar.

But as it approached Russian airspace, the Boeing 777 suddenly lost contact with air traffic control. Instead, for a minute and a half, the plane and its passengers plummeted to the ground.

The people onboard, among them 80 children, were mostly Dutch, but came from 10 different countries including Britain and Australia. None of them stood a chance of surviving.

But at the crash site where their bodies lay scattered, it quickly became clear the downing of Flight MH17 was no accident.

Its shattered fuselage was dotted with shrapnel and it had been flying over territory where Russian-backed separatists had already shot down a number of Ukrainian military aircraft.

It has taken a painstaking international investigation and a court case lasting more than two-and-a-half years, but today came justice, at last, for those onboard.

Russians Igor Girkin and Sergey Dubinsky and Leonid Kharchenko, a Ukrainian, were found guilty of their murder and sentenced to life, the toughest punishment under Dutch law.

Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinskiy and Leonid Kharchenko were found to have been responsible for shooting down the flight on 17 July 2014.

All had links to Russian intelligence services. Another Russian, Oleg Pulatov, the only defendant to offer any defence, was acquitted.

Analysis of thousands of hours of intercepted phone calls, innumerable social media posts and a painstaking reconstruction of the shattered plane itself have shown that flight MH17 was destroyed by a missile fired by a Buk Missile launcher system - taken from a Russian army base over the border into Ukraine and then back into Russia again.

The missile was fired from Donetsk, part of the country that was recently illegally annexed by Russia but that, even back in 2014, was being fought over by Russian-backed rebels.

Russia has always denied any involvement and the defendants were tried in their absence, having never been arrested.

They weren’t the men who fired the missile - instead the prosecution argued they were responsible for moving the launcher into position.

For relatives of those who died, some of whom had travelled from as far as Australia to hear the verdict, it was a day of mixed emotions.

Ria van der Steen, who lost her father and stepmother, didn’t know whether to celebrate or break down and cry.

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“We did it!” she said, as she left the court building, raising her fists skyward.

For her, the verdict is enough, despite knowing none of the men are likely ever to serve their sentences.

“It really means everything to me” she said. “Its the best feeling that the whole world knows that they are guilty - and that Russia is involved”.

For many of the families here, watching the atrocities unfold in Ukraine over the past 10 months has been deeply painful.

Meryn O’Brien, an Australian who lost her son Jack, is devastated so many Ukrainians are still suffering at the hands of the Russians.

“We are just so shattered that the violence has escalated,” she said.

“But Jack died as part of the same conflict, the same war. So it's just bleak and depressing.”

She shares the hope of many of the MH17 families that this verdict might pave the way to Russia, one day, being held accountable by the international courts on a far wider scale.

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