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Plush toys and broken sunflowers. The downed plane of the Amsterdam-Kuala Lumpur flight in the photos of Mstislav Chernov

The crash site of the Boeing 777 flight MH17 Amsterdam-Kuala Lumpur in Donetsk region in 2014. Photo by Mstyslav Chernov


On July 17, 2014, a Boeing 777 passenger plane, flight MH17 Amsterdam - Kuala Lumpur, was shot down in eastern Ukraine. All passengers and crew - 298 people - were killed. By the number of victims, the plane crash was the largest in the history of Ukraine.


Background


Since mid-April 2014, active hostilities have been taking place in eastern Ukraine as part of Russia's aggression. On May 2, 2014, pro-Russian forces used man-portable air defense systems to shoot down two Mi-24 helicopters of the Ukrainian army near the city of Sloviansk. In June 2014, pro-Russian forces shot down an Il-76 aircraft as it was approaching Luhansk airport. On July 1, 2014, Ukraine closed the airspace over the war zone to civilian aviation up to an altitude of 7900 meters. However, on July 14, 2014, an An-26 transport plane of the Ukrainian Air Force was shot down in the Luhansk region, five kilometers from the Russian border. On July 16, a Su-25 was shot down and a second Su-25 was fired upon with man-portable air defense systems. The next day, on July 17, a passenger plane was shot down, with almost a third of the passengers being children.


Photo by Mstislav Chernov


The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 passenger plane was shot down on July 17, 2014 near Torez, Donetsk region. The plane was operating a scheduled flight MH17 from Amsterdam, the Netherlands, to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The flight took off from Amsterdam at 13:30 Kyiv time and was en route to Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Communication with the plane was interrupted around 16:00. Three hours into the flight, a missile hit the plane. All passengers and crew were killed - 298 people, including 80 children. In terms of the number of fatalities, this was the largest air crash in the history of Ukraine.


Photo by Mstislav Chernov


Catastrophe


An international investigation found that MH17 was shot down over the Donetsk region of Ukraine by a Russian-made Buk anti-aircraft missile system. The same day after the crash, a number of airlines, such as Lufthansa, Air France, and Turkish Airlines, announced that they would change the flight paths of their planes to avoid eastern Ukraine. In the evening of July 17, 2014, the European Organization for the Safety of Air Navigation closed the airspace of Ukraine to civil aviation.


Photo by Mstislav Chernov


On July 17, then-President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko initiated the creation of a state commission involving experts and international organizations to investigate the Malaysia Airlines tragedy. “We do not rule out that this plane was also shot down, and we emphasize that the Armed Forces of Ukraine did not take any action to hit targets in the air,” the president said.


The Joint Investigation Team (JIT) has named the first four suspects: Serhiy Dubinsky (call sign “Khmuryi”), Ihor Hirkin (call sign “Strelkov”), Oleh Pulatov (call sign “Gyurza”), and Leonid Kharchenko (call sign “Krot”). On May 24, 2018, the authorities of Australia and the Netherlands officially accused Russia of the plane crash. In November 2019, a part of the indictment in the case was submitted to the court in The Hague. The downing of the plane triggered a new wave of sanctions against Russia by Western countries. At a hearing on November 17, 2022, the District Court of The Hague announced that only life imprisonment would be a sufficient punishment for Russians Igor Girkin and Sergei Dubinsky, as well as Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko, who were found guilty. On May 18, 2024, a Ukrainian court sentenced Sergei Dubinsky to 14 years in prison in absentia.


Photo by Mstislav Chernov


Consequences


Mstislav Chernov was one of the first photographers and videographers to film the aftermath of the Malaysian plane crash. "At that time, accreditation for international agencies was still in place in Donbas. We were on duty, filming stories every day and following the news,” Mstyslav Chernov said in an interview. ”When social media reported that a transport plane had been shot down, we decided to go and film immediately. On the way, we received a call from London saying that a passenger plane had gone missing. At first, we didn't even realize what had happened. We thought that two planes had disappeared at once. Then everything became clear."


On the third anniversary of the plane crash, on July 17, 2017, the National MH17 Monument was unveiled in a community in the north of the Netherlands near the country's largest international airport. As conceived by the landscape designer, the trees planted in memory of each of the victims look like a mourning ribbon from above. The sunflowers planted in the area remind us of the Ukrainian field where the wreckage was found.


 

Mstyslav Chernov is a Ukrainian photographer, Associated Press journalist, filmmaker, war correspondent, President of the Ukrainian Association of Professional Photographers, honorary member of PEN Ukraine and writer. He has covered the Revolution of Dignity, the war in eastern Ukraine, the aftermath of the downing of Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777, the Syrian civil war, the battles of Mosul in Iraq, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, including the blockade of Mariupol. For this work, he received the Deutsche Welle Freedom of Speech Award, the Giorgi Gongadze Prize, the Knight International Journalism Awards, the Biagio Agnes Award, the Bayeux Calvados-Normandy Award, the Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award, and the Free Media Awards. In 2022, he was included in the ratings “People of NV 2022 in the Year of War” and “14 Songs, Photos and Art Objects that Became Symbols of Ukrainian Resistance” by Forbes Ukraine, and video footage from Mariupol became the basis for the film “20 Days in Mariupol,” which in 2024 was awarded an Oscar for the first time in the history of Ukrainian cinema.


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As a reminder, the Ukrainian Association of Professional Photographers has launched a series of materials dedicated to the key events of the Russian war against Ukraine, where it publishes memoirs and photographs of Ukrainian documentary photographers.

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