Thieves de­scend on dead

Townsville Bulletin - - NEWS - PAUL TOOHEY

NOT un­til you have seen the Ukraine in the sum­mer, when the vast fields of sun­flow­ers and corn ripen, do you un­der­stand the flag of this na­tion. The sim­ple azure hor­i­zon­tal stripe at the top rep­re­sents the sky and the yel­low the fields be­low.

So it was on a warm day, July 17 last year, when a Rus­sian- made SA11 BUK mis­sile tore from the gold into the blue, end­ing the lives of 298 pas­sen­gers, in­clud­ing 38 Aus­tralians mak­ing their way home from the Nether­lands via Malaysia.

Any doubt as to the hor­rific and reck­less over­sup­ply of heavy weapons across Rus­sia and the for­mer Soviet re­pub­lic of the Ukraine, now the most eastern part of Europe, ended with those lives.

MH17 was fly­ing over Ukraine di­rectly into Rus­sian airspace. In an area bristling with bal­lis­tic mis­siles, and where the skies are con­stantly mon­i­tored, Rus­sian mil­i­tary air con­trollers knew the air­liner was ap­proach­ing.

If the Rus­sians and the mil­i­tary arm of the Ukrainian sep­a­ratist move­ment are one and the same, it is dif­fi­cult to ac­cept the “ter­ri­ble mis­take” ex­pla­na­tion so of­ten of­fered.

It goes that Rus­sian­backed rebels were sit­ting in­side the BUK mo­bile mis­sile tank watch­ing radar blips and, be­liev­ing it to be a pass­ing Ukrainian mil­i­tary cargo plane, fired.

Yet there was no good rea­son for a Ukrainian mil­i­tary plane, fly­ing at such high alti- tude, to be so close to the bor­der and headed di­rectly into en­emy Rus­sia. Some­thing about this story is wrong.

Sep­a­ratists and Rus­sians ar­gue the Ukraini­ans de­vised the slaugh­ter in or­der to win in­ter­na­tional sym­pa­thy – and mil­i­tary as­sis­tance – by blam­ing Rus­sia, only months af­ter it had an­nexed the Crimea from the Ukraine.

Into this mess walked the Dutch and Aus­tralian po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tors, adopt­ing at­ti­tudes of care­ful in­dif­fer­ence to the war. Yet they needed to get right into the mid­dle of it.

MH17 was brought to earth deep in a con­flict zone, where sep­a­ratists had dug in around the crash site and were fight­ing Ukrainian troops over long dis­tances via tank- to- tank, or cannon- to­can­non, com­bat.

It is now ac­cepted that in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math, the peo­ple of sev­eral small vil­lages sur­round­ing the epi­cen­tre of the crash zone, and sep­a­ratists, res­cued what bod­ies and hu­man re­mains they could, along with pos­ses­sions, piling them into train car­riages.

But an al­ready ter­ri­ble scene of car­nage was am­pli­fied as out­siders de­scended on the wreck­age to steal what they could. They found it eas­ier to wan­der the site than Dutch and Aus­tralian po­lice on a hu­man­i­tar­ian mis­sion.

The aim was to re­cover the “re­mains of the re­mains”, as the AFP com­man­der on the scene, Brian McDon­ald, de­scribed it, and ne­go­ti­a­tions were re­quired to en­sure they could en­ter with­out be­ing caught in the cross­fire.

For all this, some good was ex­tracted from the site, thanks to more than 200 Aus­tralian per­son­nel, plus many more from other na­tions, who were able to bring some sat­is­fac­tion to fam­i­lies by gath­er­ing wreck­age that helped es­tab­lish the cause, but most par­tic­u­larly by repa­tri­at­ing the fur­ther hu­man re­mains. All Aus­tralian re­mains have now been iden­ti­fied. In fact, all but two of the peo­ple aboard the flight have been iden­ti­fied, a re­mark­able foren­sic achieve­ment given that some vic­tims were seated over the heav­i­est part of the plane, the land­ing gear, which hit and burned hard­est.

GREEDY GHOULS: Video im­ages show mili­tia at the site of the downed air­craft, go­ing through pas­sen­gers’ bags.

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