For Matthew Horder, in an Amsterdam court to hear three men finally convicted of responsibility for the shooting down of commercial airline flight MH17, there is, finally, a sense of justice, tempered by the knowledge the men responsible for murdering his parents are not likely to see the inside of a prison cell.
Three men convicted over the fatal shooting down of MH17 on 17 July 2014 – Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinsky, and Leonid Kharchenko – have been sentenced to life imprisonment. A Dutch court held them responsible for the Buk missile launch that downed the passenger jet, killing all 298 people on board.
Horder, still coming to terms with the death of his mother, Susan, and father, Howard, said the finding of guilt against the three men was a vital accountability for the families of those killed.
“Overall it’s a positive outcome, it’s what we came to hear, the missile downing mum and dad’s plane is true,” Horder said outside court.
“There’s some justice – it’s not lost on us the three found guilty are unlikely to serve time behind bars – but we’ve known that since the beginning, they were tried in absentia.
“Still, something feels different.”
The three men convicted – Girkin, Dubinsky, and Kharchenko – are unlikely to ever serve a day in prison, because Russia will not hand them over. The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has previously boasted publicly: “Russia does not extradite its citizens to anyone.”
A fourth man, Oleg Pulatov, the only accused to mount a defence in this case – he had lawyers represent him in the trial, but did not appear in court himself – was acquitted.
Girkin, Dubinskiy and Kharchenko were said by the judge to have shown a “disrespectful and unnecessarily hurtful” attitude to the relatives of the people they killed.
“Only the highest possible prison sentence would be the appropriate punishment” for their crimes, presiding judge Hendrik Steenhuis said. The court heard while the accused did not “press the button themselves” on the Buk missile launcher that downed the plane, they were responsible for moving it from Russia and deploying it on the battlefield.
The judges ruled it was a deliberate action to bring down a plane, even though the three found guilty had intended to shoot down a military not a civilian aircraft. Prosecutors and those convicted have two weeks to lodge an appeal.
Igor Girkin, who goes by the alias Igor Strelkov, is a former colonel in Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) and “minister of defence” in the contested Donetsk People’s Republic.
He has previously said he felt “a moral responsibility” for the deaths of those onboard MH17, but refused to admit a role in downing the jet, while criticising the legal proceedings.
Since the start of Russia’s renewed invasion of Ukraine in February, Girkin has emerged as one of the most prominent voices within a group of ultranationalist and pro-war Russian bloggers who have taken to berating the Kremlin for its military failures in Ukraine. Girkin has more than 750,000 followers on the Telegram messaging app.
Last month, there was widespread speculation Girkin might return to Ukrainian territory after posting that he had returned to active service in the military. There was significant hope if he could be captured on Ukrainian soil, he would be handed over to the Dutch court.
But there have been no confirmed sightings that he has left Russian territory.
Sergey Dubinsky, a former major general of Russian military intelligence was reportedly born in Donetsk and served initially in the Soviet Army. He fought in conflicts in Afghanistan, North Ossetia, Chechnya, and Ukraine. He is now believed to live in Russia’s Rostov region.
In court, he was accused of overseeing the transport of the Buk missile launcher that was used to shoot down MH17. But he has consistently denied any involvement in the shooting down of the passenger flight.
Leonid Kharchenko, a Ukrainian citizen who went by the codename “Krot”, or mole, was also a member of the Donetsk People’s Republic’s so-called military intelligence unit.
He served under the command of the other suspects and was suspected of handling the Buk missile and arranging its transportation.
The Australian prime minister, Anthony Albanese, said his government welcomed the court’s finding, and said Russia should allow the three men convicted to be extradited to serve their sentences.
“We’ve gone through this legal and court process, and we call upon Russia to hand over for justice the people who are involved in this and who have been found to be guilty in absentia.”
The foreign minister, Penny Wong, offered her condolences to the victims’ families, whom, she said, had “suffered an unfathomable grief”.
“Whilst I know that very little can lessen the grief when you lose a loved one in such horrific circumstances, it is important for the truth to out and it has.”
She said Russia should give up those convicted of murdering innocent civilians.
“We would say to Russia the world knows that you’re harbouring murderers and that says something about you Mr Putin.”