It's a little past 1 a.m. at the headquarters of the eastern Ukrainian separatist group that has seized control of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17's nearby crash site, but the rebel leaders of the Donetsk People's Republic have gathered international reporters there for a reason. With their audience crammed into the office building conference room that the pro-Russia rebels consider their separatist capital, the heavily armed men are finally — finally — handing off the black boxes from MH17 to Malaysian and Dutch representatives who will take custody.
It is, judging by the missives of those in attendance, a scene of high farce in the style we've come to expect from eastern Ukraine's unruly, often-unpredictable, occasionally drunk rebels. The black boxes, sure enough, were surrendered, but not without a strange and awful little show, led by Alexander Borodai, the self-appointed prime minister of the separatist rebel state, who used the moment to blame Ukraine's government for the shoot-down.
Armed gunmen in the lobby of the Park Inn hotel, here to pick up Malaysian delegation and take them to receive black boxes from MH17— Shaun Walker (@shaunwalker7) July 21, 2014
I wonder how the #MH17 black box negotiations are going. "Do you have the black boxes?" "Um, yes, totally." "Give them to us." "Well..."— max seddon (@maxseddon) July 21, 2014
Nervy rebels with Kalashnikovs at administration building. Normal for those who've been in Donetsk a while but suspect Malaysians terrified— Shaun Walker (@shaunwalker7) July 21, 2014
12.21am in Donetsk; still waiting for Borodai/Malaysians to emerge. Are these talks? Negotiations? Are black boxes handed over? Who knows.— Shaun Walker (@shaunwalker7) July 21, 2014
Wow Borodai has wheeled the Malaysians out, is now lecturing about how Kiev is responsible for downing MH17, with Malaysians standing silent— Shaun Walker (@shaunwalker7) July 21, 2014
Malaysia delegation says he isn't interests in blame game, but just wants black boxes because they "are property of Malaysia."— Christopher Miller (@ChristopherJM) July 21, 2014
Borodai denies again that rebels shot down #MH17. "The Ukrainians had the technical capabilities and the motives to do it."— max seddon (@maxseddon) July 21, 2014
Borodai says Malaysia PM Razak called him today and convinced him to hand over #MH17 black boxes.— max seddon (@maxseddon) July 21, 2014
The Malaysian Colonel who accepted the black boxes addressed rebel leader Borodai as "Your Excellency" at tonight's press conference #MH17— Kirit Radia (@KiritRadia) July 21, 2014
Malaysia National Security Council member/delegation head says he is pleased that #MH17 black boxes appear intact.— Christopher Miller (@ChristopherJM) July 21, 2014
The documents were in Russian and English, and I'm pretty sure the Malaysian delegation's English wasn't very good. Wonder what they signed.— Paul Sonne (@PaulSonne) July 22, 2014
Well that was the weirdest press conference I've ever been to...— Shaun Walker (@shaunwalker7) July 21, 2014
The black boxes are finally, after days of being held by eastern Ukraine rebels who variously claimed them and denied possessing them, in the hands of Malaysian and Dutch officials who can investigate them properly. But not before we were all treated to another glimpse at the strange little world of the Donetsk separatists.