Volodymyr Tsemakh, the chief witness to the 2014 downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine, has returned from Russia to his home in Ukraine’s breakaway Donetsk region, Tsemakh’s daughter, Maria Levchenko-Tsemakh confirmed in a September 12 phone interview with Current Time TV.
A former commander of air defenses for Russian-backed separatists in the area where the Boeing was shot down, Tsemakh, a Ukrainian citizen, ranks as a “person of interest” for Dutch-led international investigators into the incident.
They have closely tracked his recent movements – from the breakaway Donetsk region to Kyiv as a prisoner in late June, and, then, via Ukraine’s September 7 prisoner exchange with Russia, on to Moscow. Once in Russia, he was believed lost to further testimony.
Levchenko-Tsemakh refused to say whether her father had played a role in the downing of MH17, but stressed that he has already given evidence to “all parties” who wanted to question him, including investigators from the Netherlands.
“Everyone has already received the requested evidence that they wanted to receive. All the countries. We will not interfere with their work or stir up the public,” she said.
Levchenko-Tsemakh added that the family sees no reason to hire a lawyer for her father as a witness in the case.
“Why would we need a lawyer? Lawyers are needed when a person is suspected of something, accused, and maybe is guilty. There’s no reason for my father to hire a lawyer,” she stressed. “Everyone who wanted it received evidence from my father. Everything we wanted to say, we said. No one is hiding from anyone. He has nothing to hide.”
Levchenko-Tsemakh first posted about her father's return home in a September 10 post on the popular Russian social network V Kontakte (VK).
She lives in Khartsyzk, not far from the town of Snizhne, just north of the location Bellingcat investigative journalists consider to be the launch site of the missile that shot down the Boeing.
The chairman of one Dutch organization that helps relatives of the MH17 victims expressed concern about what Tsemakh’s return to the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic will mean for the investigation into the crash.
In an interview with RFE/RL, Piet Ploeg, chairman of the MH17 Disaster Foundation, termed Tsemakh’s change of address “another act of obstruction from Russia.”
"The Netherlands has asked Russia for the arrest and extradition of Tsemakh,” he noted. “Now that Tsemakh is back again or is going back to the separatist area, Russia cannot extradite him."
In a September 7 post on VK, Levchenko-Tsemakh expressed gratitude to Russian President Vladimir Putin for arranging her father’s departure from Ukraine, where he faced charges of assisting a terrorist organization -- a reference to separatist forces.
“To say thank you to the RF [Russian Federation] government and to ‘our’ president, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, is to say nothing! I am entirely in your debt.”
Asked by Current Time about her family’s future plans, Levchenko-Tsemakh answered simply, “To live.”