The 2010 Katyń Families Association

On 10 April 2010, a Polish aircraft carrying the Polish President and 95 other people was destroyed in Smolensk. Four years later, the Russians shot down a Malaysian Boeing 777 carrying almost 300 people from the Netherlands, Malaysia, Australia and other countries. Here are some differences and similarities of these two events.

On 10 April 2010, a Polish aircraft carrying the Polish President and 95 other people was destroyed in Smolensk. Four years later, the Russians shot down a Malaysian Boeing 777 carrying almost 300 people from the Netherlands, Malaysia, Australia and other countries. The circumstances surrounding the Smolensk disaster (10 April 2010) and the attack on Boeing 777 (17 July 2014) are strikingly similar.

Furthermore, the attitude adopted by leaders of the countries most affected by the Malaysian aircraft disaster can be contrasted with the attitude taken up by the polish authorities and government. The actions of Donald Tusk’s government following the Smolensk disaster could be considered disgracefully incompetent or even treasonous.


- the scale of the tragedy
96 people died in Smolensk. In Ukraine in 2014, 298 people were killed – mainly citizens of the Netherlands, Malaysia and Australia. Both the Polish TU 154 and the Boeing 777 were almost completely destroyed. In both Smolensk and the town of Hrabove, debris from the aircraft was scattered over a wide area.

- explosion
The debris of both the Polish Tupolev and the Malaysian aircraft showed signs of destruction by the actions of a third party. According to experts from the Smolensk parliamentary group, an internal explosion occurred over Smolensk which caused the fuselage to disintegrate. In Ukraine, a rocket – likely carrying a 60kg explosive charge – exploded some 20m away from the aircraft.

- perpetrator
Both tragedies are the result of Russian activities – the only unknown elements are the degree of guilt and true intentions of those responsible for the destruction of both aircraft.


The Polish TU154M disintegrated over Russian territory, and all of the key pieces of evidence were immediately taken by Putin’s people. Prior to the disaster, the aircraft was repaired in Russian facilities belonging to businessmen allied to the current Russian President and the tragic visit of Lech Kaczyński was organised by former communist agent Tomasz Turowski. The Russian air traffic controllers issued erroneous information to the pilots, and the last stage of the flight was closely monitored by General Vladimir Benediktov, who was based in Moscow. The investigation into the Smolensk disaster is being overseen in Russia by the Prosecutor General Yury Chaika and the Minister of Defence Sergei Shoigu – both of whom are, according to the American intelligence agency ‘Strategic Forecasting’, associated with the GRU (Russia’s military intelligence agency). Key roles in the Russian committee responsible for investigating the events of 10 April 2010 –led by Vladimir Putin – are being played by ministers Rashid Nurgaliyev and Sergei Ivanov, who are former employees of the KGB and FSB.


The Malaysian Boeing 777 was shot down over Ukrainian territory by Russian terrorists, whom Moscow refers to as ‘separatists’ or ‘rebels’. Their leaders are former or current agents of the GRU, including Igor ‘Strelkov’ Girkin and Igor Bezler.  It was the Russians – not the Ukrainians – who for a long time blocked access to evidence and to the site of the disaster.

- disinformation
Following both tragedies, the Russians launched coordinated disinformation campaigns.

On 10 April 2010, information provided by Vesti‑24 stating that the Polish pilot had made four attempts to land spread across the world. This information, which was swiftly denied, had the objective of putting the blame for the incident on the Polish crew (as was the case with the lies regarding the pilots' problems with the Russian language) and to make the story of Lech Kaczyński allegedly influencing the decision to land seem more credible. It was also claimed that General Andrzej Błasik had forcibly entered the pilots’ cabin and had even taken the controls of the TU154M.


After the shooting‑down of the Boeing 777, theories spread by the Russians started to appear, blaming the crime on the Ukrainians, who allegedly sought to shoot down an aircraft with Vladimir Putin on board. The regime‑linked radio station ‘Voice of Russia’ reported just one day after the tragedy: ‘Most experts place the blame for the air disaster on Ukraine’s armed forces, although Kyiv officially blames the self‑defence forces. [...] Of course Ukraine is responsible for this terrible tragedy, which could not have occurred had President Poroshenko not renewed the pacification operation in the South‑East of the country. The blood of the passengers and the crew of the Boeing are on his hands'.

- treatment of the bodies

In Smolensk, body parts were found at the site of the tragedy many months after the tragedy, while Russian officials allowed the belongings of the dead to be looted. Moreover, the coffins of the victims have been sealed in Russia and never allowed to be opened, once in Poland. The victims' families were prohibited to open the coffins in Poland.


In Ukraine shortly after the shooting‑down of flight MH17 Boeing777, pro‑Russian terrorists transported some 40 corpses to Donetsk, where Russian doctors were supposed to carry out post‑mortem examinations. Ukrainian sources claim that these were the corpses whose injuries could have indicated the type of weapon used. International experts were only given access to the decomposing remains four days after the tragedy. Russian terrorists had earlier looted the victims – even stealing their rings – and desecrated their bodies.

- destruction of evidence
Following the tragedy in Smolensk, the wreckage of the aircraft was intentionally damaged, with parts being sawn off and windows smashed. Parts of the aircraft were also relocated and rearranged on the crash site. The wreckage was left without any security (it was only covered in a tarpaulin in October 2010) and the black boxes were sent to Moscow.


In Ukraine, for two days after the shooting‑down the terrorists did not give independent experts access to the aircraft wreckage. Large parts of the Boeing 777 wreckage were taken from the scene of the tragedy or moved different locations.


- the victims
In Smolensk it was the elite of the Polish state who perished, including President Lech Kaczynski and his wife, the last President‑in exile of Poland, Ryszard Kaczorowski, the Deputy Marshals of the Senate and of the Sejm, the leaders of all branches of the Polish Armed Forces, a large number of parliamentarians, staff of the President's Chancellery, and the head of the National Bank of Poland and the Institute of National Remembrance.


The vast majority of the victims of the shooting-down of the Boeing 777 were ordinary tourists. Only one of the people who died on board the Malaysian aircraft held state office – Willem Witteveen, a Dutch Senator flying out with his family on holiday.

- the nature of the flight
Flight TU154M had HEAD status, meaning that one of the most important people in the country was on board. It was also a military flight carrying an official state delegation. Security for the flight was to be provided by the counterintelligence services and the Government Protection Bureau. The take-off and disaster both took place at military airports. The Tupolev’s crew consisted of Polish soldiers.


The Boeing 777 flight was a civilian flight and no agencies were providing security for it.

- international investigation
In spite of the fact that the most important representatives of the Polish state died in Smolensk, the Polish Government deliberately gave up all of the evidence in the hands of the Russians. Separate investigations were launched by the Russian and Polish Prosecutors General, and the Russian Interstate Aviation Committee was tasked with investigating the disaster. On the Polish side, the tragedy was investigated by the Miller Committee. Neither the investigation nor the examination involved international participation – even though such a possibility existed. The Government Spokesman at the time, Paweł Graś, stated plainly that 'it is not very clear in what way the involvement of foreign experts could help us to gain a better understanding of the causes of the disaster'.


Following the shooting-down of the Malaysian Boeing, an international investigation is being held (under the formal leadership of the Netherlands). An expert group was appointed consisting of 24 members from the Netherlands, Ukraine, Malaysia, Australia, Germany, the USA, the UK and Russia. At the request of Ukraine, the OSCE and representatives of the FBI and NTSB (US National Transportation Safety Board) are overseeing the investigation of the disaster. Nobody is asking ‘how could the involvement of foreign experts help?’

- black boxes
In April 2012, in the hopes of retrieving original evidence, a vote was held in Parliament on ‘requiring the Russian Federation to hand over to Poland the evidence from the disaster of 10 April 2010 remaining on Russian territory, but which is the property of the Republic of Poland’, a majority of Members voted against (including the whole Civic Platform Party in its entirety).


In 2014, when Russian terrorists took the black boxes and transported parts of the Boeing 777 wreckage away from the site, the Ukrainian Government resolutely demanded their return.  The unyielding approach taken by Kyiv, which used every diplomatic tool in its arsenal and made use of international channels in its negotiations with Moscow, was effective: the flight recorders were returned and handed over to investigators.

- identification of bodies and post‑mortem examinations.
In Smolensk, identification of the bodies was carried out exclusively by the Russian Ministry of Health, whose employees also carried out the post‑mortem examinations. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk found out about this decision – which had been taken by the Russians – on 10 April 2010, but he did not protest. Neither the Polish prosecutors, nor Polish doctors, were present during the identification of the bodies or the post‑mortem examinations. The majority of the bodies (71 of 96) had been identified and placed in coffins four days after the disaster. Furthermore, the Polish authorities informed the families that the coffins must remain closed after their arrival in Poland. The coffins of the victims have been sealed in Russia and never allowed to be opened, once in Poland.


The post‑mortem examinations carried out by the Russians were either shams, or extremely unprofessional. Some bodies had been placed in the incorrect coffins. Furthermore, in the post‑mortem documentation for the late Zbigniew Wassermann, the Russian doctors failed to note more than a dozen distinguishing features and traces of previous illnesses. They also described his gallbladder, which had been removed from the politician long before the disaster. The Russian report also included inaccurate information on the height and eye colour of the late Law and Justice parliamentarian. This is not all. ‘Rather than being sewn back into the abdominal cavity, the spleen and heart had been sewn into our father’s leg. The corpse had not been cleaned after the post‑mortem. The head had not been sewn up, leaving the skull open’ – said Małgorzata Wassermann, the victim’s daughter, at the 2nd Smolensk Conference in Warsaw.


The situation in the case of the flight MH17 was completely different. The Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte reported that the bodies from the Malaysian flight were being identified by 207 police experts from the Netherlands and dozens of specialists from Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Belgium, Germany, Brazil, Malaysia, South Africa and the USA. – The process will take weeks or even months – said the spokesman for the Netherlands Forensic Institute once work had begun.

- international experts at the site of the tragedy
Barely 18 members of the Polish Government committee were present at the site of the tragedy in Smolensk.The photographs taken there – which are of very poor quality – were mainly taken by a cheap Nokia E66 mobile telephone, which can currently only be bought in second‑hand shops and internet auctions. In any case, the majority of the photographs in the Miller Committee’s report came from Russian amateur photographer Sergei Amelin.


In Ukraine, the shooting-down of the Boeing 777 by Russians over Ukraine is being investigated by 332 specialists from the Netherlands and Australia, as well as 68 experts from Malaysia. They are using the most up‑to‑date equipment. As the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte reported, this number will likely increase when the group is joined by 60 Dutch forensic specialists and 60 police officers and soldiers from the Netherlands.

- appearance of the seats and bodies
The seats in Smolensk had been torn apart and were often found scattered at great distances. Meanwhile, the seats from the Boeing 777 remained whole, even though the aircraft had fallen from a height of 10 km. – The solid explosive charges that destroyed the TU154 when it was on the ground were relatively small, but they were close to certain passengers. This resulted in their bodies being torn apart, and various organs were found at the scene of the disaster, even right beside the wreckage. In the case of the Malaysian Boeing, there was a large explosive charge which exploded relatively far away. The consequence of this was crushing rather than tearing apart. The majority of injuries found on the bodies were the result of hitting the ground; therefore, in comparison with the Smolensk site, the Boeing crash site has relatively few small pieces of human remains – said  Dr Grzegorz Szuladziński, an expert for the Smolensk parliamentary group, during an interview with ‘Gazeta Polska’.

- government’s information policy
Just five days after the shooting-down of Boeing 777, the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte presented information to Parliament on the tragedy and its investigation. The Polish Sejm had to wait 19 days before Prime Minister Tusk presented similar information on the Smolensk disaster.


The Polish government also fell short when it came to organising a press conference. The Dutch Prime Minister called a press conference within three days of the shooting-down of the Boeing. Meanwhile, Donald Tusk’s first press conference on the Smolensk tragedy took place 18 days after the tragedy!

- respect for the dead
On 17 April 2010, officials and the loved ones of the victims of the Smolensk disaster awaited the arrival of coffins containing the bodies of a number of their relatives, including General Franciszek Gągor, at Warsaw’s military airport. ‘Telewizja Trwam’ recorded a moment in which the acting President Bronisław Komorowski and the Prime Minister Donald Tusk laughed as they told each other jokes. Shortly afterwards, a similar scandal erupted. Bronisław Komorowski’s officials Waldemar Strzałkowski and Jerzy Smoliński arrived over two hours late to the funeral of Anna Walentynowicz. When they finally arrived, they were carrying a wreath from the acting President while walking very unsteadily.  Witnesses reported that one of the men ‘could barely stay on his feet’ and ‘reeked of alcohol’. Strzałkowski and Smoliński then explained that they had each drunk a glass of wine’.


In 2014, following the Russian shooting‑down of the Boeing, there were no similar occurrences in the Netherlands or in Malaysia.