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Families Of MH17 Crash Victims Put Blame Squarely On Russia In Trial

Ria van der Steen (center right) prepares to give testimony in court in the trial of four men charged with murder over the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on September 6.

Families of victims from Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 that was shot down over Ukraine in 2014 have demanded justice from Russia in testimony against four suspects -- three Russians and one Ukrainian -- being tried in absentia over the crash.

MH17 was shot down on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur by a Russian-made Buk surface-to-air missile fired from territory controlled by Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 passengers and crew.

The four suspects -- Russians Sergei Dubinsky, Oleg Pulatov, and Igor Girkin, as well as Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko -- are being tried in absentia by a court in The Hague for involvement in the tragedy. Only one of the suspects, Pulatov, is represented by lawyers at the trial.

All four suspects are accused of being key figures among the separatists battling Kyiv.

A team of international investigators concluded in May 2018 that the missile launcher used to shoot down the aircraft belonged to Russia's 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade.

Ria van der Steen, who lost her father and stepmother in the crash, was the first family member of one of the victims to testify on September 6.

Quoting the Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, she flat-out accused Moscow of covering up its role in what happened: "They are lying, we know they're lying and they know that we know that they're lying."

The trial is being held in the Netherlands because the plane departed from Amsterdam and 196 of the victims were Dutch.

The Dutch government holds Moscow responsible.

Moscow has denied any involvement in the conflict in parts of eastern Ukraine and has offered several possible theories about how MH17 was blown out of the sky, including that it was shot down by a Ukrainian Air Force jet or by Ukrainian ground forces using a Buk system.

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.

"How would the perpetrators feel if it was their loved ones? How would [President Vladimir] Putin and his corrupt Russian government answer that?" asked Australian Vanessa Rizk, who lost her parents in the crash, via videoconference.

The tragedy caused an international outcry and deepened tensions between Moscow and the West following Russia's seizure of Crimea and support for the militants in their fight against Kyiv's forces after pro-European protests pushed Moscow-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych from power.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters
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