Pete Ploeg felt a glimmer of hope that justice would finally be served when he read the news that prominent Russian nationalist Igor Girkin could return to the battlefield in Ukraine.
Ploeg’s brother, sister-in-law and nephew died along with 295 other passengers and crew when they boarded the plane in Amsterdam on July 17, 2014. was beaten over the territory of Donetsk controlled by Ukrainian separatists, according to international investigators, there was a Russian-made surface-to-air missile.
Dutch prosecutors say Girkin, who was the commander of Kremlin-backed separatist forces during Vladimir Putin’s first invasion of Ukraine in 2014, helped supply the missile system used to bring down the plane.
“We have to be realistic. The chances of Holland getting him are slim. Ukraine must first capture him alive, and then hand him over to us,” Ploeg, who is the chairman, said MH17 Disaster Foundation, a Dutch organization that helps the relatives of those who died in the crash of the flight.
“But it would be amazing if he could face the justice he deserves in court. Miracles happen in this world,” he said.
A Dutch court is due to issue a verdict on Girkin and three other MH17 defendants who are at large on November 17.
Girkin, who goes by the pseudonym Igor Strelkov, previously said he felt “moral responsibility” for the deaths of 298 people on board the plane, but refused to admit to shooting down the passenger plane.
For the first time, there were speculations that Girkin was heading to Ukraine after several days of silence in his Telegram channel.
From the beginning of the invasion of Russia Girkin arose as perhaps the most prominent voice in a group of ultra-nationalist and pro-war bloggers who have begun lambasting the Kremlin for its military failures in Ukraine, amassing more than 750,000 followers on the messaging app.
Last Saturday, his wife Miroslava Reginskaya shared a photo of him in military uniform on Girkin’s Telegram channel.
“When asked where Igor Ivanovich is,” she wrote to her father, “everything is fine!” I will contact you soon.”
And on Tuesday, Girkin published a short message “From October 14, 2022, I am in the active army.”
The Ukrainians have since launched a crowdfunding campaign to capture him, which has raised more than $150,000 (£135,000). Donors include local politicians and professional athletes.
Kiev’s desire to capture Girkin, who once boasted that he “pulled the trigger on war” in Ukraine, is partly due to mounting evidence that he was guilty of war crimes during his command of Kremlin-backed separatist forces in 2014.
According to an investigation Radio Free Europe, Girkin was responsible for ordering the execution of at least three people in eastern Ukraine. In several interviews, Girkin himself admitted that he ordered the shootings, saying that he himself killed one of the men.
However, it remains to be seen whether this is the case Russia allow a former militant commander to participate in combat operations.
On Wednesday, a picture of a man in a military uniform was published on social networks, which closely resembles Girkin. The authenticity of the photo was not confirmed by The Guardian, but by a group of activists on Twitter Geolocated picture, claiming it was taken near the Russian city of Rostov, which borders Ukraine.
Readovka, a pro-Kremlin news site with ties to the security services, said on Wednesday that Girkin had faced some resistance from the Russian military, which reportedly opposed his draft. “But he doesn’t give up… He does everything to go to the front,” Readovka said.
In the event that Ukraine captures Girkin, then Netherlands will seek his extradition, said Sørd Sørdsma, a senior Dutch lawmaker from the center-left Democrats 66 party.
“When I heard about the Ukrainian crowdfunding campaign, I asked our government to double the collected money,” said Siordsma.
The Netherlands wants to prevent a repeat of 2019, when Ukraine included Vladimir Tsemakh, another suspect in the downing of MH17, in a large group. exchange of prisoners with Russia, putting him beyond the reach of Dutch prosecutors.
“Ukraine has always provided extraordinary assistance in the MH17 investigation, but we had a case in the past where they trafficked an important suspect,” Sördsma said, referring to Tsemakh. “I hope that our government is already negotiating with Ukraine about what will happen if they get Girkin.”
“Having him in the Dutch court in November was just a dream,” said the Dutch lawmaker.