Seven years ago, on July 17, 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17), a Boeing 777 commercial airliner flying out of Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, carrying 280 passengers and 15 crew members was downed over eastern Ukraine by what was suspected to be a surface-to-air missile.
Both Ukrainian and Russian authorities denied responsibility, and the so-called “separatist” leaders of the Donetsk People’s Republic claimed that they did not possess weapons with an altitude range of 10,000 meters.
An investigation was launched by Ukraine, with Dutch experts invited to assist in the investigation, as well as members of the International Civil Aviation Organization and other international experts. President Petro Poroshenko said, “I would like to note that we are calling this not an incident, not a catastrophe, but a terrorist act.”
The downing of MH17 was the third known aircraft to be shot down over Ukrainian airspace, including an An-26 and an Su-25 of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
Shortly before reports had surfaced about the downing of MH17, posts on Russian social media site Vkontakte claimed that insurgents in the Russia-backed regions of the Donbas had shot down the plane.
Igor Girkin, a Russian military intelligence officer known by his alias Strelkov, wrote: “In the vicinity of Torez [located 40 kilometers east of Donetsk, with a population of 80,000], we just downed a plane, an An-26. It is lying somewhere in the Progress Mine.
We have issued warnings not to fly in our airspace. We have video confirming. The bird fell on a waste heap. Residential areas were not hit. Civilians were not injured.” Included in the post were two videos that showed a rising plume of black smoke in the distance.
The international Joint Investigation Team (JIT), led by Dutch experts, has presented evidence that a Russian-made Buk missile system shot down MH17 and that the weapon came from a military base in Russia. A trial is being held at the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague, and three Russians (Igor Girkin, Sergei Dubinsky, Oleg Pulatov) and one Ukrainian (Leonid Kharchenko) have been named as suspects, but none of them are expected to appear in court to face prosecution. Mr. Pulatov is the only suspect that has legal representation at the trial. Russia continues to deny involvement in the deadly attack that killed all 298 people on board, comprising citizens from 10 different countries (193 of them Dutch, 43 Malaysian, 27 Australian, 12 Indonesians, 10 Britons, four Germans, four Belgians, three Filipinos, one Canadian and one New Zealander). Russia also claims that “evidence” it had provided to investigators or the ICC had been disregarded, and that a fair trial is not possible.
Sources: “Malaysian airliner down in Ukraine,” (RFE/RL, AFP and The New York Times), “Poroshenko orders investigation,” (Official website of Ukraine’s President), and “Downed plane claim on social media,” (RFE/RL Ukrainian Service), The Ukrainian Weekly, July 20, 2014.