Trial of men accused of downing flight MH17 over Ukraine and killing all 298 on board set to begin

Four men with links to the Russian military will go on trial on Monday in the first criminal case over the murder of 298 people on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, which was shot down over Ukraine in 2014.

However, the men are not expected to attend court in the Netherlands and the trial is likely to go ahead without them.

An official inquiry found the Boeing 777 was hit by a Buk missile launched from an area of Ukraine controlled by pro-Russia separatists.

The Joint Investigation Team last year named four suspects: Russians Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinskiy and Oleg Pulatov, as well as Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko.

Russia denies involvement and has dismissed the international investigation as prejudiced against Moscow.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab urged Russia to co-operate. Credit: PA

Dominic Raab has urged Russia to “co-operate fully” with the court case in a courtroom near Schiphol, the Amsterdam airport from where the doomed flight took off.

The Foreign Secretary said there can be “no impunity” for those responsible for the “appalling crime”, which left all 298 people on board the plane dead in July 2014.

Mr Raab said: “This trial is an important milestone towards accountability for the shooting down of MH17 and the tragic deaths of the 298 people on board – including 10 British people – nearly six years ago.

“The Russian state must now co-operate fully with this trial in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2166.

“There can be no impunity for those responsible for this appalling crime.”

The UK has donated £100,000 to help establish the Dutch court.

The families of the passengers set out 298 white chairs outside the Russian embassy in the Hague on Sunday as a silent protest against what they say is Moscow's lack of cooperation.

The chairs - laid out like rows on a plane - represented the victims.

Families stood in silence for two minutes after arranging the chairs, with banners including one that read: "Impunity = unacceptable! Someone knows what happened... Justice for MH17."

Relatives accuse Russian authorities of seeking to hide the facts about exactly what happened.

  • Barry Sweeney is hoping for justice at the trial

The father of Liam Sweeney, from North Tyneside, is in the Netherlands in the hope he will find out the truth behind the incident.

"If anything happens in the air in general, and I feel like if anything happens in the sky, I always feel for everybody," Barry Sweeney told ITV News.

"At least if it was an accident, you'd know why it happened or what happened but I still want to find out why my son had to die for no reason, there was no reason it had to happen or should have happened.

"Have a look at yourselves, if it was your family, if it was your kids, if it was your parents or whoever, have a look at it, come back and give us the justice we deserve."

Piet Ploeg, who lost his brother, Alex, his sister-in-law and his nephew, said families were not accusing Russia of downing the Boeing 777.

Families gathered in protest. Credit: AP

Russia continued to deny involvement, even after prosecutors alleged that the Buk missile system was transported into Ukraine from the Russian 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade's base in Kursk and the launching system was then returned to Russia.

Families are hoping the trial, expected to last for more than a year, will shed definitive light on exactly what happened.

Jon O'Brien and his wife Meryl have flown to the Netherlands from Australia to watch the trial.

Their son, Jack, was among the victims.

"He and all the other people on the MH17 had their lives snatched away. That's the most important thing and all those people will live for the rest of their lives with that grief and loss," he said.

"But the trial is important because the truth still matters."

What do we know about the four suspects?

The Joint Investigation Team outlined its case at a press conference. Credit: AP
  • Igor Girkin: He is a former colonel in Russia's intelligence service, the FSB. Girkin was Minister of Defence and commander of the army of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic. He had direct contact with Moscow. He said on that "the insurgents did not shoot it down".

  • Sergey Dubinskiy: Employed by Russia's military intelligence agency, the GRU, he was Girkin's second in command, say prosecutors, and again, had direct access to the Russian Federation.

  • Oleg Pulatov: A former special forces soldier with Russia's elite Spetznaz unit, he was deputy head of intelligence services in Donetsk.

  • Leonid Kharchenko: The only one of the foursome to have no military background. Also known as Krot, he received his orders directly from Dubinskiy. In July 2014, prosecutors believe, he was in charge of a combat unit in the Donetsk region.