Published: 16:23, September 6, 2021 | Updated: 20:16, September 6, 2021
Families of MH17 airline crash victims speak in court
By Reuters

Trial judges and lawyers view the reconstructed wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, at the Gilze-Rijen military airbase, southern Netherlands, on May 26, 2021. (PETER DEJONG / POOL / AFP)

AMSTERDAM - Dozens of relatives of the 298 victims of Malaysian Airlines flight 17, shot down over rebel-held eastern Ukraine in 2014, began giving testimony on Monday at the murder trial of four fugitive suspects accused of carrying out the attack.

International investigators concluded that the passenger plane was shot down over eastern Ukraine with a missile fired by pro-Russian rebels. Moscow denies all responsibility.

"They are lying, we know they are lying and they know that we know that they are lying," Ria van der Steen, who lost her father and stepmother on the flight, told the court, saying she was citing the late Soviet dissident writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

Van der Steen was the first of dozens of relatives who will be given an opportunity to speak or submit written statements over the coming three weeks.

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Judges said on Monday they expected to issue a judgement in late 2022

Van der Steen made the remarks about lying in Russian, explaining that she did so "for the benefit of those who are listening in on behalf of the Russian regime today."

"I want it to be known that I know where the responsibility lies" she said, adding that "lying and falsehoods are a familiar tactic in this game of cat and mouse through which we are aspiring to uncover the truth".

MH17 was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was hit by what international investigators and prosecutors say was a Russian surface-to-air missile that originated from a Russian base just across the Ukrainian border.

After years of collecting evidence, a team of international investigators concluded in May 2018 that the launcher used to fire the missile belonged to Russia's 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade.

Three Russians and a Ukrainian citizen, all suspected of having key roles in the separatist forces, are on trial for murder.

READ MORE: Dutch court prepares for inspecting MH17 wreckage

Russia, which maintains that it has not funded or supported rebels fighting Ukrainian government troops, has refused to extradite the suspects.

The fugitive suspects have been on trial for a year and a half. Only one sent lawyers to represent him so the case is not considered to be entirely tried in absentia under Dutch law.

Judges said on Monday they expected to issue a judgement in late 2022.

Proceedings moved to a critical stage in June when prosecutors began presenting evidence and will start calling witnesses.