Herald Sun

VUL­TURES

REBELS RAN­SACK AUSSIES’ LUG­GAGE MO­MENTS AF­TER SHOOT­ING DOWN MH17

- CHARLES MI­RANDA charles.mi­randa@news.com.au Military · World Politics · Incidents · Warfare and Conflicts · Politics · Ukraine · Malaysia Airlines · Malaysia · Kuala Lumpur · Kuala Lumpur FA · Russia · Russian Empire · Australia · Belgium · Netherlands · Donetsk · Turkey · Vladimir · Kiev · Soviet Union · Australian Federal Police · Vladimir Putin · Sukhoi Aviation Corporation · An-124 Ruslan · Lugansk · Russian Armed Forces

Shock­ing new video shows Rus­sian­backed rebels ran­sack­ing the lug­gage of pas­sen­gers, in­clud­ing 38 Aus­tralians, killed when MH17 was shot down. A year ago to­day, 298 in­no­cents were mur­dered. Video ob­tained by the Her­ald Sun’s Charles Mi­randa re­veals the rebels be­lieved they had downed a Ukraine fighter jet.

DIS­TURB­ING footage has emerged show­ing Rus­sian­backed rebels, be­liev­ing they had shot down a Ukrainian fighter jet, ran­sack­ing the lug­gage of pas­sen­gers and crew in the wreck­age of Malaysia Air­lines Flight MH17.

A year ago to­day 298 pas­sen­gers and crew, in­clud­ing 38 Aus­tralian cit­i­zens and res­i­dents, died when the Kuala Lumpur-bound plane was downed over eastern Ukraine, 40km from Rus­sia’s bor­der.

The Her­ald Sun has ob­tained cam­corder footage, shot by the rebels them­selves.

The rebels ini­tially be­lieved they had shot down a Ukrainian air force fighter jet with a ground-to-air mis­sile sys­tem.

The film records their dis­may as, min­utes later, they dis­cover the air­craft is a com­mer­cial air­liner.

The Her­ald Sun this week handed the footage to a multi­na­tional joint in­ves­ti­ga­tion team of po­lice from Aus­tralia, Bel­gium, Malaysia, the Nether­lands and Ukraine, which is due to re­port in four months.

It de­clined to com­ment, pend­ing fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

An in­ves­ti­ga­tion by this news­pa­per can re­veal that just af­ter 3pm lo­cal time — two hours af­ter civil­ian air traf­fic con­trol lost con­tact with MH17 at 1.20pm — a rebel unit was dis­patched from Donetsk to hunt for Ukrainian pilots who had re­port­edly parachuted from their downed air­craft. An armed unit, guided by a smoke plume from the wreck­age, ar­rived at the site and be­gan the hunt for the pilots.

Mili­tia re­ported that lo­cals said they had seen one “crawl­ing” from the scene af­ter parachut­ing to safety.

How­ever, to their ev­i­dent con­fu­sion, they found more blaz­ing wreck­age and de­bris than they had ex­pected.

The 17 min­utes of footage, which was smug­gled out from the rebels’ own Donetsk base, clearly shows the faces of the mili­tia, and in the case of one, a Donetsk Peo­ple’s Re­pub­lic iden­tity card.

The mili­tia speak in both Rus­sian and Ukrainian — con­ver­sa­tions which the Her­ald Sun has had trans­lated.

Dis­turbingly, the footage shows rebels work­ing around the dis­mem­bered bod­ies of the pas­sen­gers and crew to rum­mage through their be­long­ings to find things of value.

They par­tic­u­larly ex­press shock at find­ing the back­pack of an Aus­tralian, be­fore they pore over the per­son’s be­long­ings, in­clud­ing a wash bag.

They toss nu­mer­ous other bags aside and pile up a col­lec­tion of mo­bile phones and other goods.

The com­man­der of the mili­tia unit at the site takes a call from head­quar­ters and is told there were two planes.

He then or­ders all the civil­ians to be cleared from the area and for all film­ing to stop, cit­ing his fear that footage could end up on the in­ter­net.

He even asks those who were film­ing as they went through bags to en­sure that none of their faces are shown.

He then in­structs his men to fan out and re­trieve the black box flight recorders, and put ev­ery­thing in his car.

Off-cam­era, the com­man­der can be heard rd say­ing: “They say the Sukhoi oi (fighter) brought down thee civil­ian plane and ours brought down the fighter.

“But where is the Sukhoi?

“There it is … it’s t’s the pas­sen­ger plane.””

Later, he is shown an ID card be­long­ing to a stew­ardess.

“You see, they are for­eign­ers, Malayysian­s,” he says.

“Who’s opened a cor­ri­dor for them too fly over here?” a rebel asks. sks.

A consignmen­t of ex­otic birds aboard MH177 at­tracts be­mused com­ments.

“Even a f---ing par­rot ar­rot flew flew. There are birds ev­ery­where. “Here’s one, here’s another. “Where from? There’s another bird there!”

The uniden­ti­fied com­man­der re­ceives nu­mer­ous phone calls from peo­ple be­lieved to in­clude Rus­lan, a rebel mil­i­tary com­man­der from Donetsk, Vladimir An­tyufeyev, a for­mer Rus­sian po­lice­man turned Donetsk rebel po­lit­i­cal leader, and Ka­lyian, a rebel com­man­der from the em­bat­tled province of Lu­gansk.

An in­ves­ti­ga­tion by this news­pa­per can also re­veal lo­cals were be­ing in­structed on what to say they had seen over the skies.

This in in­cluded that the plane had b been fired on by an uniden­ti­fied fighter, de­spite mount­ing ev­i­dence a ground-to-air mis­sile downed it.

The mili­tia’s con­fu­sion about the num­ber of air­craft that had been shot down was wors­ened by the pres­ence in the wreck­age of spare air­craft parts, in­clud­ing struts and he­li­copter ro­tors, that MH17 had been car­ry­ing.

Me­mo­rial ser­vices in hon­our of the vic­tims are due to be held in the Ukrainian cap­i­tal, Kiev, to­day.

Ser­vices will also be held in Aus­tralia, Malaysia, and in the Nether­lands, whose cit­i­zens made up more than half of those who were aboard the doomed flight.

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 on that day.

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 com­mer­cial jet 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 that is so of­ten told.

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

Yet there was no good rea­son for a Ukrainian mil­i­tary plane, fly­ing at such high al­ti­tude, 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-to-cannon, 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,

Chances are the names of the guilty rebels, and their likely Rus­sian mil­i­tary ac­com­plices, are al­ready known.

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.

(In­cred­i­bly, when an Aus­tralian Fed­eral Po­lice of­fi­cer ques­tioned me last year about my time in Ukraine cov­er­ing MH17, he men­tioned that other Aus­tralian news teams had ad­mit­ted to sou­venir­ing wreck­age ob­jects from the scene. They were asked to give them back.)

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.

That may seem like small com­fort, given that the searchers only con­firmed what most fam­i­lies al­ready knew to be true.

How­ever, had you seen one set of Aus­tralian par­ents who trav­elled to the crash site be­cause of their com­plete re­fusal to be­lieve that they had lost their beau­ti­ful daugh­ter to a mis­sile, you could see how im­por­tant pro­vid­ing this grim con­fir­ma­tion was.

It was not easy on the site. Cease­fires were not re­spected and heavy ar­tillery fire ul­ti­mately re­pelled searchers who just wanted to take ev­i­dence home.

Still, 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.

The mur­der­ers have no doubt long since slipped silently into Rus­sia, well out of reach of in­ter­na­tional pros­e­cu­tors.

The chances are that the names of the guilty rebels, and their likely Rus­sian mil­i­tary ac­com­plices, are al­ready known, but ex­tract­ing them from Vladimir Putin’s Rus­sia is a lot to hope for.

Per­haps only the crush­ing pain of their guilt will bring them from their lairs.

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 ??  ?? Stills from the video footage re­veal the rebel troops sift­ing through the wreck­age of MH17. The Her­ald Sun has blurred the im­ages of bod­ies.
Stills from the video footage re­veal the rebel troops sift­ing through the wreck­age of MH17. The Her­ald Sun has blurred the im­ages of bod­ies.
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