Tuesday 20 February 2018

Ukraine accuses Russia of ordering attack that downed Flight MH17

Mourners gather in front of a “hedge of compassion”, made of thousands of soft toys, during a commemoration ceremony near Utrecht in the Netherlands
Mourners gather in front of a “hedge of compassion”, made of thousands of soft toys, during a commemoration ceremony near Utrecht in the Netherlands

Maria Tsvetkova in Ukraine

Ukraine's president has accused Russia's military of ordering the missile strike that brought down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 one year ago.

The accusation came as relatives gathered around the world, from the Netherlands to Australia, to remember the 298 passengers and crew who died.

"MH17, where 298 victims were killed for no reason, was shot down by a Russian BUK missile, launched by a Russian professional crew under an order and an instruction from the Russian military," President Petro Poroshenko said on the first anniversary of the disaster.

Ukraine has consistently blamed Russia, but Mr Poroshenko's comments were his most direct to date.

Russia denies responsibility and in turn has pointed the finger at Ukraine, whose forces are fighting pro-Russian separatist rebels in the region of eastern Ukraine where the plane crashed to earth.

Mr Poroshenko did not say what evidence he had for accusing the Russian military.

In rebel-held eastern Ukraine, a church service was held and residents joined a procession to a gravestone near the area where twisted metal and body parts came crashing down on July 17 last year.

"To the memory of the dead - 298 innocent victims of civil war," was written on the gravestone in the village of Hrabove, where a Russian Orthodox priest and an imam said prayers.


About 300 people brought flowers and flags of the victims' countries, some with black ribbons attached, and released white balloons into the sky.

"The memory of these people will always be in our hearts... Pray for their souls," said one priest.

Of the victims, 196 were from the Netherlands, where 1,500 relatives gathered for a ceremony of music and dance at which the names of the victims were read out.

"Today is a hard day, a day of reliving," Prime Minister Mark Rutte told mourners. "The 298 unique people we remember today are for always bound with your lives and those of thousands of others."

The wife of the airliner's first officer took the stage to read out the announcement her husband was never able to make.

"Salam alaikum and good evening," she said, her voice trembling. "We will begin our descent shortly."

At Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, from where flight MH17 departed, and at towns across the country, sunflowers were laid like those that grow at the crash site. Flags flew at half-mast.

Western governments believe that pro-Russian rebels shot the plane out of the sky with a Russian-supplied BUK missile.

Britain and Ukraine marked the anniversary with new appeals for an international tribunal to prosecute suspects, an option also favoured by Malaysia, Australia, the Netherlands and Belgium.

Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed those calls as premature and counter-productive on Thursday.

Irish Independent

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