'Russia are lying' MH17 victims' families accuse Moscow of cover up

‘Russia are lying, we know they’re lying and they know that we know’: MH17 victims’ families accuse Moscow of covering up its role in shooting down jet as they begin testifying in court

  • Family members of 298 people killed spoke Monday in a court in Badhoevedorp 
  • Under Dutch law, relatives can make a victim’s impact statement to the court
  • Ria van der Steen, whose father and stepmother died in 2014 crash accused Russia of covering up involvement, and gave some of her statement in Russian
  • Investigation concluded that plane was shot down by pro-Russian rebels
  • Moscow denies any responsibility and will not extradite the four suspects 

Relatives of the victims of Malaysian Airlines flight 17 have accused Russia of lying over its alleged role in the downing of the plane, which killed 298 people. 

International investigators concluded that the passenger plane was shot down over eastern Ukraine with a missile fired by pro-Russian rebels. Moscow denies all responsibility. 

Family members began testifying in the Dutch murder trial of four suspects on Monday. 

‘They are lying, we know they are lying and they know that we know that they are lying,’ Ria van der Steen, who lost her father and stepmother on the flight, told the court, saying she was citing the late Soviet dissident writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

Van der Steen was the first of dozens of relatives who will be given an opportunity to speak or submit written statements over the coming three weeks.

MH17 was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17, 2014 when it was hit by what international investigators and prosecutors say was a Russian surface-to-air missile that originated from a Russian base just across the Ukrainian border.

Van der Steen made the remarks about lying in Russian, explaining that she did so ‘for the benefit of those who are listening in on behalf of the Russian regime today.’

Relatives of the victims of Malaysian Airlines flight 17 have accused Russia of lying over its alleged role in the downing of the plane, which killed 298 people. Pictured: Ria van der Steen, whose father and stepmother were killed

Van der Steen (left) made the remarks about lying in Russian, explaining that she did so ‘for the benefit of those who are listening in on behalf of the Russian regime today’

Under Dutch law, the relatives are allowed to make a victim impact statement to the court, without being asked questions. About 90 people plan to do so over the next three weeks. Pictured: Court on Monday

‘I want it to be known that I know where the responsibility lies’ she said, adding that ‘lying and falsehoods are a familiar tactic in this game of cat and mouse through which we are aspiring to uncover the truth’.

Russia, which maintains that it has not funded or supported rebels fighting Ukrainian government troops, has refused to extradite the suspects.  

Under Dutch law, the relatives are allowed to make a victim impact statement to the court, without being asked questions. About 90 people plan to do so over the next three weeks, some speaking via live video links from other countries. 

‘I think probably next to the verdict, it is one of the most important days for the family members because they can speak to the court, but through speaking to the court, they speak to the suspects and also to the responsible people wherever they are hiding,’ said Peter Langstraat, a lawyer representing victims’ relatives. ‘So this is a form of communication with the people who are responsible for this disaster.’ 

Van der Steen told the Badhoevedorp courtroom on Monday that the deaths of her father and stepmother left her with feelings of hate, revenge, anger and fear.

She spoke of waking up screaming from nightmares of walking across fields in Ukraine looking for her father to let him know he had died.  

‘I saw the wreckage, bodies, personal effects,’ she recalled, ‘I could not stop crying until I woke up screaming.’

MH17 was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17, 2014 when it was hit by what international investigators and prosecutors say was a Russian surface-to-air missile that originated from a Russian base just across the Ukrainian border [File photo]

After first being told it would not be possible to identify the bodies of her loved ones, van der Steen finally learned that her father had been identified thanks to a tiny piece of bone of his hand.

‘Happily, we received news soon after that a small piece of bone of [my stepmother] Neeltje was found and that she, too, was identified,’ said van der Steen, recalling how shocked she was when presented with the two small bags of bones.

‘I knew it was them, but emotionally I did not want to accept it,’ she told the court.

‘To the perpetrators, seven years ago, you broke up my family in the worst way imaginable,’ said Vanessa Rizk, testifying remotely from Australia. Vanessa and her brother James lost their parents in the crash.

‘Seven years on, I am determined that you will never, ever break my spirit,’ she said.   

The trial opened in March 2020 and progressed through a long series of preliminary hearings before lawyers began discussing the merits of the case in June. The complex case is expected to continue into next year.

After a years-long painstaking international investigation, prosecutors charged four suspects – Russians Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinskiy and Oleg Pulatov as well as Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko – with multiple counts of murder for their alleged involvement in shooting down the flight.  

Only Pulatov sent lawyers to represent him so the case is not considered to be entirely tried in absentia under Dutch law.  

Last week, investigators appealed to Russians to come forward with information about the deployment of the missile that investigators say downed the plane.    

The complex case followed a years-long investigation, and is expected to continue into next year. Pictured: Two people hold hands as they walk to the court where relatives gave testimony on Monday

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