By Maria Romanenko
The Ukrainian government says that the MH17 suspect and former Donetsk “people’s republic” soldier Volodymyr Tsemakh was questioned by the Dutch before his departure to Moscow.
“He was questioned and not just before his departure… Everything we were asked to do, we have done. It was very difficult and I was really scared that the exchange would not go ahead because of it,” the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy told journalists at the Boryspil airport, where 35 Ukrainian political prisoners and prisoners of war arrived minutes later.
Tsemakh, who was sent to Moscow as part of the September 7 prisoner exchange between Ukraine and Russia, is a former anti-aircraft defense commander in the occupied part of the Donetsk region. His daughter claims he only took the position in October 2014, but at the time the MH17 flight airplane was downed near Snizhne in the occupied Donbas, he was the only man who was qualified to fire the Buk missile system, even if he was not in fact the commander at the time.
Tsemakh’s name was believed to have been added to the list of Russians Ukraine handed over to Moscow at the last minute, as per the request of the Russian President Vladimir Putin. On September 5, Tsemakh – who was detained by Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) in late June – was released from custody by the decision of a Kyiv court and on personal recognizance. Minutes after the information about the decision emerged, Putin announced a “large-scale” prisoner exchange.
The Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs, Stef Blok, also confirmed that Ukraine had done everything to help the Dutch investigate the MH17 downing.
“The government has urged the relevant Ukrainian authorities not to allow Mr. Tsemakh to participate in the exchange of prisoners. In addition, the importance that the [Dutch] Public Prosecution Service attaches to keeping Mr. Tsemakh available in the context of the criminal investigation into the downing of flight MH17 has always been emphasized. In response, the Ukrainian authorities have promised to postpone the exchange for some time to allow the Public Prosecution Service to hear Mr. Tsemakh again. This has happened,” Blok said in a letter to the Dutch parliament, which was made public on the official website of the government of the Netherlands.
Earlier on September 7, the Head of Ukraine’s Security Service, Ivan Bakanov, stated to Ukraine’s Interfax news agency that Tsemakh had been interrogated and “all the data had been added to the [MH17] case.”