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A general view of the courtroom where the MH17 trial of three Russians and a Ukrainian is taking place as it enters a new stage where families of victims of the MH17 plane crash give testimony in Badhoevedorp, Netherlands September 6, 2021. — Reuters pic
A general view of the courtroom where the MH17 trial of three Russians and a Ukrainian is taking place as it enters a new stage where families of victims of the MH17 plane crash give testimony in Badhoevedorp, Netherlands September 6, 2021. — Reuters pic

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THE HAGUE, Sept 6 — The traumatised families of 298 people killed in the shooting down of flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014 demanded justice from Russia today as they testified in the Dutch trial of four suspects.

People who lost children, parents and siblings in the crash of the Malaysia Airlines plane said they could not truly say goodbye to their loved ones until those responsible had been brought to book.

International investigators say a Russian-made missile fired from eastern Ukraine held by pro-Moscow rebels brought down the Boeing 777, but Russia has denied all involvement.

Ria van der Steen, who lost her father Jan and stepmother Nell, said she was quoting from the Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn: “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 was the first to testify.

“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 Oleg Pulatov, Igor Girkin and Sergei Dubinsky, and Ukrainian citizen Leonid Kharchenko are all being tried in absentia for murder. Only Pulatov has legal representation.

Around 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 three young 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. — AFP

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