Ukraine has defended not closing airspace in the east of the country where Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down in July 2014, saying that it was unaware that anti-aircraft weapons were being used there.
In its final report released on Tuesday, the Dutch Safety Board – which did not lay blame for the disaster – said that Ukraine should have closed the airspace over the conflict zone and that the 61 airlines that had continued flying there should have recognised the potential danger.
Kyiv insists it had taken steps to protect planes during the conflict with pro-Russian rebels.
“The Minister of Defence of Ukraine took a decision to close air space up to flight level 7,900 metres to ensure the safety of civil air traffic over the anti-terrorist operation zone,” Dmytro Babeichuk, the head of Ukraine’s air-traffic control service told a news conference.
“At that time, nobody could imagine that such powerful facilities, such powerful equipment as BUK, could be used against a civil aircraft.”
Kyiv, like many in the West, lays blame for the crash – in which 298 people died – with the rebels and Moscow.
“The territory from which the missile was launched was under the control of Russia-backed fighters,” said Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Hennadiy Zubko.
“These weapons that downed the plane were Russian ones. It is impossible for people to deal with such a weapon, without preparation. It was high accuracy. The missile shot the cockpit. That is why we think there were Russian instructors.”
Moscow vigorously denies the accusations and has pointed the finger of blame at Ukrainian forces.
Investigators’ reconstruction of wreckage that was scattered across 50 square kilometres demonstrates a determination to establish what happened in one of the most complex air crash probes in history.
Our correspondent in Kyiv, Maria Korenyuk, said: “The information about the circumstances of the MH17 crash published in the final report wasn’t surprising. It repeated what had been announced earlier. However, while the technical investigation has been completed, the criminal probe is ongoing. The answer to the question “Who was to blame?” will be known at the beginning of 2016 at the earliest. That is when a criminal report from the international group of investigators should be presented in the Netherlands.”