MH17 crash murder suspects absent as trial kicks off with reading nearly 300 names of those killed

The names of the 298 people killed in the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine were read aloud Monday by a Dutch prosecutor as a trial kicked off against three Russians and one Ukrainian allegedly responsible for having the commercial passenger plane shot out of the sky.

After a painstaking investigation into the crash, an international team of investigators and prosecutors last year identified four suspects: Russians Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinskiy and Oleg Pulatov as well as Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko.

THREE RUSSIANS, ONE UKRAINIAN TO BE TRIED FOR MURDER IN MH17 TRIAL

All four men were senior commanders in the Russian-backed Donetsk People’s Republic, a separatist group that was fighting Ukrainian forces at the time of the crash, according to The Guardian. Though they were not extradited from Russia or Ukraine, the trial against them began in their absence Monday at the Judicial Complex Schiphol, located near the Amsterdam Airport Schiphol in the Netherlands, where Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 or MH17, took off on July 17, 2014.

The Boeing 777 bound for the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur was shot down over a conflict zone in eastern Ukraine by a Buk anti-aircraft missile, killing everyone on board. The victims were from 17 different countries. Most – 198 people – were Dutch. Malaysians, Australians, Indonesians and British citizens also perished.

It took 18 minutes for prosecutor Dedy Woei-a-Tsoi to read out the victims' names as relatives of the dead listened in the courtroom, with some bowing their heading and closing their eyes, according to the Associated Press. Presiding Judge Hendrik Steenhuis and two others will hear the case. Two alternate judges were also present in court Monday.

Piet Ploeg, who lost his brother, Alex, his sister-in-law and his nephew, sat in court, his hands folded in front of him, listening attentively as the case started. He said his nephew was delivered back to him in 80 pieces – and he keeps a list from the Forensic Institute of his body parts that were recovered from the crash site in his safe, the BBC reported.

The families of the deceased also arranged 298 white chairs in rows resembling aircraft seating outside the Russian Embassy in The Hague on Sunday to protest what they see as Moscow’s deliberate attempts to obscure the truth about what happened.

Rob Fredriksz, who lost his son Bryce and his girlfriend Daisy, places a sign next to 298 empty chairs, each chair for one of the 298 victims of the downed Malaysia Air flight MH17, placed in a park opposite the Russian embassy in The Hague, Netherlands, Sunday, March 8, 2020.  (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

Rob Fredriksz, who lost his son Bryce and his girlfriend Daisy, places a sign next to 298 empty chairs, each chair for one of the 298 victims of the downed Malaysia Air flight MH17, placed in a park opposite the Russian embassy in The Hague, Netherlands, Sunday, March 8, 2020.  (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

MH17 PLANE CRASH 'KEY WITNESS' UNEXPECTEDLY RELEASED FROM UKRAINE JAIL

Jon and Meryn O’Brien had flown all the way from Sydney to witness the start of the unprecedented Dutch trial, hoping for justice for their son Jack.

“The trial is important because the truth still matters,” Jon said on the eve of the trial. “You shouldn't be able to murder 298 people and for there to be no consequences, regardless of who you are. So it's important the truth about that is told.”

One of the Russian suspects, Pulatov, hired a Dutch defense team that attended the start of the trial, BBC reported. Moscow has repeatedly denied any involvement in the crash, even after prosecutors alleged that the Buk missile system that destroyed the passenger plane 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.

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In Moscow last week, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused investigators of presuming Russia’s guilt. In a statement, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called the trial “an important milestone toward accountability for the shooting down of MH17” and the deaths of 298 people, including 10 Britons.

Under Dutch law, family members are allowed to make victim impact statements and seek compensation. That will likely happen sometime later this year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.