trial has opened in the Netherlands of three Russians and a Ukrainian – still at large – for the murder of 298 people aboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, shot down over Ukraine in 2014.
The Boeing 777 went down amid a conflict in eastern Ukraine, after Russian-backed rebels seized the area.
Investigators say they have proof the Buk missile system that shot it down came from a military base in Russia.
A judge called it an “atrocious disaster”, as proceedings began.
The trial is in a court near Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, the departure point for the Kuala Lumpur-bound flight.
Head judge Hendrik Steenhuis said there had been a “tragic loss of human lives from all around the world”.
Russia has repeatedly denied involvement in the deadly attack on 17 July 2014. Citizens of 10 different countries died on the airliner.
The three Russian men and one Ukrainian man from eastern Ukraine are all linked to the heavily armed pro-Moscow separatists.
Neither country extradites its citizens but one of the Russians will have a defense team in the courtroom, and the court says it is also prepared to accept testimony from them by video link.
The roar of planes is audible. Schiphol’s high-security justice complex is right next door to the runway where flight MH17 took off. But no-one is expecting any of the four suspects to fly in to face justice.
This trial is the conclusion of the most complex criminal investigation in Dutch history.
Two thirds of the victims were Dutch; the Netherlands took the lead in the investigation and the trial will be held within the Dutch legal system.
Two weeks have been allocated for the start, which will cover mostly procedural aspects and establish whether indeed the trial will be conducted in absentia, without the accused.
Victims’ relatives will have a chance to tell the court how their lives have been affected and what they see as the most appropriate punishment.
Piet Ploeg’s nephew came back in 80 pieces and Mr Ploeg keeps the list of body-parts in his safe. His brother Alex’s remains have never been found.
Piet Ploeg has no expectation the accused will appear even via video link, or that they’ll serve time if convicted of mass murder.
But the trial matters for him and so many other relatives, because for them it’s the only key to unlocking “the truth”.
“We want the world to know what really happened”, he told me, “and to know who did it.”
On Sunday, relatives of MH17 victims lined up 298 empty seats outside the Russian embassy in The Hague to commemorate their loved ones and protest over Russia’s stance.