Separatist rebels have taken control of the crash site of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine, where it was shot down on Thursday, possibly by the same rebel group. It appears, based on these tweets from the scene by BuzzFeed's always-excellent correspondent Max Seddon, that the rebels are not just blocking aviation investigators and health workers, but are conducting their own amateur investigation effort.
Rebels denying access to #MH17 crash site until "investigative brigade" finishes work. Won't say where the bodies are being taken.— max seddon (@maxseddon) July 19, 2014
Rebels have a thing for Disney nicknames. The end of the #MH17 crash site where we are is run by Grumpy. Baloo was on a military tribunal.— max seddon (@maxseddon) July 19, 2014
One of the rebels casually threatens to kneecap reporters every five minutes. Another is wearing a beekeeping suit and reeks of alcohol.— max seddon (@maxseddon) July 19, 2014
Needless to say, that the untrained rebels are carting away evidence and refusing entry to actual investigators from the The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) could make it harder for the world to ever fully understand what happened. The OSCE is a Vienna-based intergovernmental organization that works on conflict and disaster management issues such as the Ukraine crisis; its investigators are typically allowed complete access to such scenes. After leaving the scene of the crash, OSCE officials told reporters that the rebels had appeared to be drunk.
OSCE team arrives at #MH17 site. Rebels say they won't let them through and block off site. OSCE makes to leave, then rebels change minds.— max seddon (@maxseddon) July 19, 2014
Basically, the OSCE are only allowed 30m further than they were yesterday. Grumpy won't let them onto the field where debris and bodies are.— max seddon (@maxseddon) July 19, 2014
Maybe worse, the rebels' apparently lax treatment of the bodies of the 298 dead, who are casually hauled off or simply left on the ground, risks putting the victims' families through even more trauma. And there has been looting; reports indicate that locals may be using credit cards found on the victims' bodies.
No sign of black boxes. No sign of missile debris. No sign of aviation or military experts. No idea where the bodies are going. #MH17— max seddon (@maxseddon) July 19, 2014
Counted 82 bodies at #MH17 site. Some in body bags by the side of the road. Others decomposing in the heat. Parts being shoveled into sacks.— max seddon (@maxseddon) July 19, 2014
Nobody doing much with the bodies. Ambulances carrying rebels to and from #MH17 site. Aid workers seemed to have been drinking overnight.— max seddon (@maxseddon) July 19, 2014
The rebels who have taken control of the site are from a group called the Donetsk People's Republic, typically abbreviated to DNR, which had previously declared independence from Ukraine after seizing parts of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. DNR is widely considered to be supported and armed by Russia, which has sought to promote the rebels to sow chaos in Ukraine.
The most troubling thing about the #MH17 site is what isn't there: many personal effects and parts of the plane. One can only speculate.— max seddon (@maxseddon) July 19, 2014
DNR rebels had, in earlier weeks, claimed to have seized a Buk surface-to-air missile system, and to have shot down Ukrainian military planes with simpler shoulder-fired missiles. It's not yet clear whether DNR was involved in the shooting down of MH17, or whether they would have had implicit or indirect Russian support for this. But the group is under wide enough suspicion that it seems especially egregious for them to have seized the crash site, blocked investigators, and so casually dismissed shrugged off the need for a crash investigation and proper removal of the bodies.
At one point several cameramen were filming behind a large piece of fuselage. Easily could have stepped on a body mangled in it. No cordon.— max seddon (@maxseddon) July 19, 2014
Some rebels seem as shocked as everyone else. "How could they let a plane fly over here?" said a man with a huge sniper rifle at checkpoint.— max seddon (@maxseddon) July 19, 2014