Ukraine holds man who transported missile launcher which shot down MH17

Deputy head of the Main Investigative Directorate of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) Vitalii Maiakov at a briefing in Kyiv on 17 July 2019. Screenshot: Youtube/Ukraine Crisis Media Center 

Hybrid War

On this day, 17 July, exactly five years ago, all 283 passengers and 15 crew of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 died as the passenger jet was shot down over eastern Ukraine.

As it emerged today, two years ago Ukrainian law enforcers detained a man who seized the low-loader truck in Donetsk in 2014, which later was used to transport the Russian missile launcher BUK that was used to shoot down MH17. Deputy head of the Main Directorate of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) Vitalii Maiakov told this at a briefing in Kyiv. This information wasn’t public until today.

At a briefing in Ukraine Crisis Media Center on 17 July, Mr. Maiakov told about the course of the investigation into the MH17 case. Since he mentioned that the information on the results of the investigation can be publicized only when it is approved by all four parties of the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT), Maiakov’s presentation mostly consisted of the earlier finds of the JIT.

However, one particular detail was never mentioned before. As Vitalii Maiakov was commenting on a JIT’s video footage showing the law-loader truck carrying the BUK in Makiivka, he said,

“Thanks to this phone-filmed footage we established the owner of the low-loader. We established the person from among the militants who seized it from a transport carrier enterprise in Donetsk. Three years later, we managed – this person who totally didn’t suspect that we know about him – to detain him when he crossed the border at the territory we control from Russia. We detained him and now he endures the punishment here, in Ukraine,” told the official.

Several videos and photos taken in the cities of the Donbas region on the day of the MH17 crash, 17 July 2014, show the mentioned truck transporting the BUK M1.

The photograph published in Paris Match clearly shows the phone number in a banner on the side of the low-loader truck. Back in 2014, Paris Match contacted the owner of the company using the number, who claimed the truck had been stolen by separatists and that the vehicle was unique in the region. Later Paris Match’s image emerged to be a still from a phone-filmed video which was included in the 2016 JIT’s press presentation.

As Bellingcat found in November 2014, Russian-hybrid forces the same low-loader truck to move military vehicles on occasions after 17 July 2014.

Mr. Maiakov has also mentioned that the level of complicity 150 persons in the involvement into the shooting down of MH17. The so-called “DNR militants” involved in the transporting of the BUK are going to be convicted on terrorism charges in Ukraine.

SBU press secretary Olena Hitlianska in her comment to Ukrayinski Novyny specified that the detained “DNR” militant wasn’t the driver of the low-loader truck, as some Ukrainian media interpreted the words of Maiakov, but he had participated in the transportation of the BUK. A Ukrainian court sentenced the detainee in 2017.

According to the SBU, the investigators have already established:

  • the exact time and route used to transfer the BUK TELAR (transporter erector launcher and radar) from Russia to Ukraine;
  • the time when an anti-aircraft missile was launched at the Boeing 777-200, and the launch site;
  • the time and route used to return the BUK to Russia;
  • more than 150 persons involved in the transportation of the BUK from Russia to the occupied parts of Ukraine’s Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts and back to Russia, in securing it, and in deploying the BUK to the launch site.

Another detainee in MH17 case

The unnamed militant mentioned by SBU investigator Vitalii Maiakov as detained in 2017 is not the only person detained in Ukraine in the MH17 case.

As we reported earlier, at the end of June, the SBU detained and a court arrested Volodymyr Tsemakh, the former head of the “DNR” air defense brigade which operated in the city of Snizhne in summer 2014.

Since the ruling of Kyiv Shevchenkiskyi District Court on pre-trial restrictions for Tsemakh has ceased to be publicly available in the Unified Register of the Court Decisions, the news agency Ukrainski Novyny suggests that the SBU has classified his case. If it is true, it may indicate that Tsemakh might have agreed to testify in the MH17 case.

However, both Tsemakh and the unnamed detainee are not among the four suspects against whom the JIT international arrest warrants earlier this year in June for alleged involvement in downing flight MH17. Three of the four top suspects – Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinsky, Oleg Pulatov are Russian nationals, the fourth – Leonid Kharchenko – is a Ukrainian citizen. All four were allegedly involved in transporting the BUK in the occupied territory of the Donbas.

Meanwhile, Russia continues to deny its involvement in shooting down MH17 and spreads misinformation regarding the case, mostly blaming Ukraine of the crime and even accusing the Netherlands of “exploiting” the tragedy.

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