The trial of four men charged with murder over the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight 17 is set to begin in the Netherlands.
Russians Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinsky and Oleg Pulatov and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko have been charged with murder and destroying a civilian airliner for their alleged roles in furnishing the missile launcher used to fire on the passenger plane on July 17, 2014.
The trial, which could run for up to 25 weeks, will begin before three judges at the Schiphol Justice Complex on Monday.
The families of the 298 victims, including the 38 Australian citizens and residents who were on board, have been waiting nearly six years for detailed information about what happened to their loved ones.
Netherlands Deputy Chief Public Prosecutor Digna van Boetzelaer says the trial is an important step towards finding truth and accountability.
“The duration of the investigation has put a heavy burden on the families and friends of the MH17 victims,” she said in a statement on Sunday.
“I am especially relieved for them that the judicial process will now commence.
“The Public Prosecution Service is ready.”
Dutch Public Prosecutions Service liaison officer Alwin Dam has been helping families, including Australians, prepare for a harrowing week of opening statements and possible evidence.
“They will be constantly confronted with the horrible event in the coming period. That is hard for them,” he told Dutch broadcaster NPO 1.
Mr Dam said families and friends will be allowed to give victim impact statements, claim compensation and tell the court what they think appropriate punishments should be.
Some lawyers believe it could take the court four to five years to deliver a verdict.
“People want a very severe punishment and we understand that, of course,” Mr Dam said.
None of the accused will be present in court, but Pulatov will be represented by three lawyers.
His participation stands in contrast to the Russian government’s steadfast rejection of the investigation and the trial.
On the eve of proceedings, Russia’s ambassador to Australia Dr Alexey Pavlovsky claimed that the Australian Federal Police had “heavily tampered” with key photographic evidence and tried to withhold evidence from the public.
The AFP denied his claim.
Mr Van Boetzelaer said the international Joint Investigation Team, which includes Australia, the Netherlands, Malaysia, Ukraine and Belgium, is still hunting those who pulled the trigger on the missile.
It’s understood the JIT is getting closer, with new photographs of the missile being fired set to be presented in court as evidence.