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Trial underway for Russian, Ukrainian suspects charged in downing of flight MH17

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As the trial of three Russians and a Ukrainian charged with multiple counts of murder for their alleged involvement in the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 got underway Monday, a Dutch prosecutor solemnly read out the names of all 298 people killed in the attack.

As expected, the suspects didn’t appear for trial and weren’t in the courtroom as prosecutor Dedy Woei-a-Tsoi read out the victims’ names.

It took 18 minutes.

Some of the relatives of the dead who were in the courtroom bowed their heads and closed their eyes as they listened to the names.

“The silence in this room when the names were being read out of all those people who lost their lives makes abundantly clear that everybody is sitting here lost in their thoughts,” Presiding Judge Hendrik Steenhuis said before adjourning the hearing for a lunch break.

The trial began with Steenhuis explaining the intricacies of Dutch criminal proceedings to families monitoring the trial in the Netherlands and around the world and outlining efforts to summon the four suspects to attend.

None of them did and only one appointed lawyers to represent him in the case. Steenhuis ruled that the trial would continue in their absence.

It’s a day that has been a long time coming for family and friends of those killed on July 17, 2014, when a Buk missile blew MH17 out of the sky above conflict-torn eastern Ukraine.

Five black-robed judges — three who will hear the case and two alternates — filed silently into a packed courtroom on the edge of Schiphol, the airport from which the doomed flight took off, heading for Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur. A small number of family members of victims were in court, others watched proceedings via a video link from a conference center in the central Netherlands.

Among those in court was Piet Ploeg, who lost his brother, Alex, his sister-in-law and his nephew. Ploeg sat in court, his hands folded in front of him, listening attentively as the case started.

“Next of kin want justice, simple as that,” he said. “We want justice for the fact that 298 people are murdered, and this court and the hearings (that) will start today will give us more clarity about what happened, why it happened and who was responsible for it.”

Steenhuis said the criminal file in the case contains some 36,000 pages and “an enormous amount of multimedia files.” Examining it at trial “will be a very painful and emotional period. There are many victims and of course because of that there are many next of kin,” he said.

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