THE HAGUE, the Netherlands -- The traumatised families of 298 people killed in the downing of Flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014 demanded justice from Russia on Monday (September 6) as they testified in the Dutch trial of four suspects.
People who lost children, parents and siblings in the July 17, 2014, crash of the Malaysia Airlines plane said they could not truly say goodbye to their loved ones until those responsible had been brought to justice.
International investigators say a Russian-made missile fired from eastern Ukraine, which pro-Moscow separatists hold, brought down the Boeing 777, but Russia has denied involvement.
In July the European Union's anti-disinformation site, EU vs Disinfo, listed the "seven most outrageous lies of the Kremlin disinformation machine" about the disaster.
The evidence against the separatists, who attacked eastern Ukraine in 2014 with the backing of Russian forces and mercenaries, is overwhelming.
The missile used to destroy the plane came from a Russian BUK anti-aircraft system, investigators found, as reported by the US think-tank Atlantic Council and many other sources.
That specific BUK launcher belonged to the Russian army's 53rd Antiaircraft Missile Brigade, based in Kursk, investigators concluded in 2018, citing satellite images and one photo posted on social media, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
Most damning, Igor Girkin, a separatist commander, or his proxy posted a message to the VKontakte social network 90 minutes after the plane's last radio contact, boasting, "We just downed a plane, an AN-26," a reference to a military cargo plane and an indication that the separatists thought they had downed a Ukrainian military asset, according to the New Yorker.
Although Girkin rapidly took down the post, the US nonprofit Internet Archive had saved it for posterity on the Wayback Machine site.
Grieving relatives' wrath
Ria van der Steen, who lost her father, Jan, and stepmother, Nell, said: "They are lying, we know they're lying and they know that we know that they're lying."
"I am full of feelings of revenge, hate, anger and fear," said Van der Steen, who testified first.
"I know they are dead and I will not see them again, but I can't put an end to this process of saying goodbye, certainly not until those who are responsible for their deaths are found to be guilty for what they have done."
Van der Steen told the court of recurring nightmares, like walking through the debris after the crash to search for her father.
"When I eventually find him, I have to tell him that he has died, and then I wake up crying," she said.
Australian Vanessa Rizk, whose parents, Albert and Maree, were travelling back on the doomed plane from a European holiday, said the perpetrators "deserved punishment for their heinous actions".
"How would the perpetrators feel if it was their loved ones? How would (President Vladimir) Putin and his corrupt Russian government answer that?" she said via livestream from Australia.
'Like a clay pigeon'
Russian nationals Girkin (the man who bragged on VKontakte), Oleg Pulatov, and Sergei Dubinsky, and Ukrainian citizen Leonid Kharchenko are all being tried in absentia for murder. Only Pulatov has legal representation.
About 90 relatives, both from the 196 Dutch victims of the crash as well as those from Australia and Malaysia, are expected to address the court in the coming days.
A tearful Peter van der Meer told the judges that he had lost his "life and his future" following the death of his daughters, Sophie, 12, Fleur, 10 and Bente, aged 7, along with his ex-wife Ingrid.
"I hope the perpetrators will feel an urgency to speak up after the story I have told you today, so that they can look in the mirror and don't have to lie to their children or grandchildren about what they did on July 17, 2014," he said.
Van der Meer said he stopped celebrating the Dutch holiday of Saint Nicholas after the death of his daughters. "It's a festival for children. I don't feel like celebrating it any longer. I have no children," he said.
Another witness, Robbert van Heijningen, who lost his brother Erik, sister-in-law Tina and their 17-year-old son, Zeger, said the perpetrators knew "they were shooting a vulnerable civil airliner from the sky, like a clay pigeon, without a chance."
Sander Essers, whose brother Peter, his sister-in-law Jolette Eusink and their two children Emma, 20, and Valentijn, 17 were killed in the crash, said his brother phoned him 20 minutes before the flight departed "with a feeling of foreboding".
"I blame myself for not taking his premonition seriously. I have sleepless nights because of it," said Essers.
Head judge Hendrik Steenhuis set September 22, 2022, as a possible date for the verdict in the trial but gave alternative dates in November and December of that year.