MH17 plane crash: Three Russians and one Ukrainian to face charges after downing of Malaysia Airlines jet

Patrick Grafton-Green, Ella Wills

Four men have been charged with murder over the downing of a Malaysia Airlines jet in eastern Ukraine nearly five years ago.

All 298 passengers and crew on board passenger flight MH17 were killed on July 17, 2014, when a missile shattered the Boeing 777 midair.

Dutch prosecutors have named three Russians, Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinskiy and Oleg Pulatov, and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko, as suspects.

International arrest warrants have been issued. A trial is due to begin in the Netherlands on March 9, 2020.

Wilbert Paulissen of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) names the four suspects at a press conference on Wednesday (AFP/Getty Images)

The passenger flight was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was shot down over conflict-torn Ukraine. Most of those on board were Dutch.

A joint investigation team formed by Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine found that the plane was shot down by a Russian missile.

Of the suspects, three Russian nationals are believed to be living in Russia, while a Ukrainian suspect is thought to be in eastern Ukraine.

A trial is expected to take place in their absence, with the Netherlands saying Russia is not expected to hand anyone over.

The investigation team previously said it was convinced that the Buk missile system used to shoot the plane down came from the Russian army's 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile brigade, based in the Russian city of Kursk.

The governments of the Netherlands and Australia have said they hold Russia legally responsible.

Russia has denied any involvement and has insisted that the missile was fired from Ukrainian army arsenals.

The country's president Vladimir Putin has previously called MH17's downing a "terrible tragedy" but insisted that Moscow was not to blame. Moscow has said it does not trust the investigation.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters earlier on Wednesday: "Russia was unable to take part in the investigation despite expressing an interest right from the start and trying to join it."

Dutch prosecutors are to charge four people over the shooting down of flight MH17 over Ukraine (AFP/Getty Images)

Silene Fredriksz-Hoogzand, whose son Bryce and his girlfriend Daisy were among the dead, earlier expressed relief that someone was finally being held accountable.

Asked if she expected the suspects to attend the trial, she said: "No. No, I don't think so. But I don't care. I just want the truth, and this is the truth."

Investigators briefed families on Wednesday morning before the suspects' names were revealed at a news conference.

In a phone call with the Associated Press on Wednesday, key suspect Girkin denied Ukrainian separatists shot down the plane. “The insurgents did not shoot it down," he said.

The Russian national was a military chief of the Russia-backed rebels in the area at the time.

He was a former FSB colonel who served as minister of defence of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) in the summer of 2014, the investigation found.

It also said Dubinsky was head of the military intelligence agency DNR, while Pulatov was head of a second department of DNR.

Ukrainian national Kharchenko was head of a reconnaissance battalion for the second department, it said.