Possible prisoner exchange, MH17 court trial and more – Weekly Update on Ukraine #9, 01 – 08 March

Situation in the combat zone

Russia-backed militants keep violating the ceasefire. They fired upon the Ukrainian troops’ positions from Minsk-proscribed 152-mm artillery, 120-mm mortars as well as from grenade launchers, heavy machine guns and small arms.

On March 2 Russia’s proxies fired upon Krasnohorivka from 120-mm mortars. The blast wave from a mortar round explosion shattered the glass window. A local was wounded by glass pieces. She quickly received the first aid.

On March 4 Russia-backed militants delivered harassing fire with small arms twice at the disengagement site no.3. There are no casualties. Ukrainian troops did not return fire and adhered to the ceasefire arrangement.

On March 8 Russia’s proxies fired upon a truck of Ukraine’s Joint Forces moving towards Ukrainian troops’ positions from an antitank missile system.

Prisoner exchange: a possible swap in March

The President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyi revealed plans for the prisoner exchange this March and the Normandy Four meeting of heads of the states to take place in April.

“The Trilateral Contact Group will meet in Minsk on April 11. We are working for the exchange to happen in March. We are working to have the meeting in late April. I am hopeful that it will all come. We are seriously working on it,” Zelenskyi said.

Volodymyr Zelenskyi also said he expects he can negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin putting an end to the war in Donbas. He does not rule out though that he can leave the negotiations if there is no progress within one year after the December summit of the Normandy Four. “Time goes by. We can spend one year on the entire agreement. It has to be implemented then. We cannot afford a longer term,” Zelenskyi said. “I will not give away the five years that Ukrainians have granted to me to negotiate in Minsk for five years. I will not do it,” Zelenskyi added.

MH17 court trial opens in the Netherlands

The trial of the four suspects accused of downing the MH17 flight started at the Schiphol judicial complex in the Netherlands on March 9.

Who are the suspects? The suspects are three Russians and a Ukrainian. Neither of them showed up for the hearing. The presiding judge Steenhuis said the trial can continue regardless of the physical absence of the four suspects. “It may be assumed that they have waived their right to be present,” judge Steenhuis said.

The four suspects are Igor Girkin (Strelkov), Sergei Dubinskyi, Oleg Pulatov and Leonid Kharchenko. Only one of them – Pulatov is represented by lawyers of a Dutch firm assisted by Russian lawyer Kutina. The head judge Hendrik Steenhuis is convinced that to adopt the final the decision in the case more time than normally will be needed – over 14 days.

Families of the victims: expectations of the trial. The head judge Hendrik Steenhuis opened the trial calling the plane downing an “atrocious disaster”. There are two more judges participating in the trial. Family members of the victims are present in court, a Ukrainian delegation is attending the hearing.

The judge said that about 80 family members of the victims plan to get reimbursement from those accused in the plane downing. Forty-nine family members would like to speak in court, 82 have addressed the court in writing, 84 claimed reimbursement, Interfax-Ukraina quotes the judge saying.

“We have to be realists. Putin will not attend the court hearing, neither will other high-level authorities. It will not happen. We know it but the prosecutor will present evidence. The court will study the evidence and will make a verdict. It is very important to us,” a family member of one of the victims said.

“It will take years for the court to make a decision. After the verdict is made I guess the government of the Netherlands will take measures possibly against Russia,” said the man who lost his brother, sister-in-law and a nephew.

Zelenskyi’s commentary. President Zelenskyi said he is hopeful that the court trial in MH17 downing over Donbas will do justice and will hold those responsible liable.

To remind, the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was downed over Donbas on July 17, 2014. All 298 persons on board were killed. According to the Joint Investigation Team the plane was downed from the uncontrolled part of Ukraine’s territory by a missile launched from a “Buk” system transported from Russia.