A severed section of the fuselage lay 20 yards from a part of the under-carriage, beyond that were two upturned seats; across the road an open suitcase was gathering rain, next to children’s shoes, magazines and a set of keys. These were the poignant remains of flight MH17 dispersed over fields of eastern Ukraine on Tuesday.
Attempts were made to secure the site, but the white tape had long been torn, and yesterday it flapped around in the wind and rain. An array of what came out of the Malaysian airliner, including potential evidence, has been left exposed to the elements. Visible among the magazines in Dutch, Chinese and Malay, the dolls, drawing books and pencil boxes, briefcase and backpacks, were shards of grey metal, possibly from a weapon, although it was impossible to discern.
There had been widespread condemnation of what was seen as hindering the work of the forensic experts by the rebels who had been accused by the Ukrainian government, and the West, of using a Russian anti-aircaft missile system to shoot down the Boeing 777. Incriminating items had been spirited away, it has been claimed, and looting by local people allowed to take place.
This last allegation was angrily denied by residents nearby. “These stories are lies which have been spread to prepare excuses if they fail to find out who was responsible,” said 68-year-old Aleksandr Borodkin. He produced a crucifix on a chain around his neck: “Look, I am Christian, Russian Orthodox, so are my neighbours. We know it is a very bad sin to rob the dead, that did not happen.
“They have produced a preliminary report today. We don’t know what the full report will say, all I can tell you is that all we saw were a few people from the OSCE [Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe] who took away a few things, and that was months ago. It did not look a very thorough job to me. I am a retired miner; accidents in mines got much more examined than what went on here.”
This area has experienced the violence of Ukraine’s vicious civil war. Separatist fighters at checkpoints warned us of incoming missile and artillery fire, although none had taken place since a ceasefire was signed at the Belarus capital, Minsk, last Friday. But there are signs of the strife that had been taking place – craters gouged out by ordnance, trees felled.
One militiaman claimed that five men looting from the crash site had been shot. This was denied by a colleague, 49-year-old Sergeant Sergei Vasilovitch. “I am not aware of any looting. People did pick up valuables, but they were handed over to the authorities. But we are fighting a war here against the fascists from the west [of Ukraine] it is impossible to keep an eye at the same time on such a wide area of debris. What do I think happened on that day? I was here and I thought there were two planes in the sky. I am not a hundred per cent sure, I could be mistaken, but I was in the army, I served in Afghanistan, one learns to observe such things.”
The Kremlin has maintained that a Ukrainian air force Sukhoi Su-25 was flying in the same stretch of sky and may have opened fire on MH17, and Kiev and its foreign allies subsequently engaged in a cover-up. “Why are you saying it’s a theory? It is the fact,” insisted Elena Romontova, 56, who lives in a nearby village. “What reason would the separatists have to shoot down a Malaysian plane? We have enough enemies with the Ukrainian government and Nato.
“I saw the bodies, different nationalities, different ages. I feel very sad for all those people, very sad. I found a picture of a pretty little Chinese-looking girl with her mother. I put a stone on it, but it’s gone.”
Last week the Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Razak, announced that he wanted to send more investigators to eastern Ukraine; there was a separate request by the inquiry team to the ruling body of the separatists in the region, to carry out an urgent search of the area, focusing on the small belongings of the passengers.
“We’ve got an official letter asking us to comb through a zone of around 40 square kilometres,” said Andrei Purgin, of the People’s Republic of Donetsk. “There had been lots of offers by our authorities to assist, but these experts came dragging their feet.” Now, things have become more complicated, but the cargo can maybe move via Russia, I don’t understand why this matter has not been discussed.”
Mr Borodkin crossed himself as he remembered the terrible day. “What happened was the worst thing anyone could imagine seeing. I cannot get the images of bodies, so many bodies, out of my mind, I can still smell the burned flesh. We all hope they rest in peace. God will provide justice when the time comes.”
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