MH17: video of pro-Russia rebels at crash site released on anniversary

Footage shows Ukrainian separatists rummaging through luggage and seeming shocked to find it was a passenger plane

A video has been published on the first anniversary of the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 showing the immediate aftermath of the disaster in which all 298 people on board died.

The 17-minute footage was published by News Corp Australia as ceremonies were held in Ukraine, Australia and the Netherlands 12 months after the plane was shot out of the sky with what is believed to be a surface-to-air missile.

The Australian foreign minister, Julie Bishop, told the Nine Network that the footage was “sickening to watch”. Thirty-eight Australian citizens or residents died in the crash.

The video was described as an exclusive by News Corp Australia, though the BBC’s Australia correspondent claimed on Twitter that the BBC broadcast the same footage, cut differently, last year. Authorities have not yet verified the video’s authenticity.

The video shows pro-Russia separatists rummaging through the luggage of dead passengers while apparently in a state of confusion.

One man dressed in camouflage, speaking a mixture of Russian and Ukrainian, asks where the remains of a military Sukhoi bomber is. “There it is, it is the passenger plane,” another responds.

The distressing and graphic footage of militiamen trampling over the charred wreckage could prove essential to investigations into the crash, clearly identifying armed men on the scene.

They open the backpacks of dead travellers, haphazardly discarding neatly folded clothes on the ground. A man in black boots and fatigues films as he walks around the area while smoke rises from small fires burning amid the debris. “Keep the perimeter. Don’t let civilians get through,” he says.

“Malaysia,” he says, “who gave them the corridor?” he asks, apparently referring to the flightpath above the war zone.

“Is it orange?” another man asks, talking about the plane’s flight recorders, which are painted orange to make them easier to find.

Suitcases and bodies lie on the ground. A red fire truck is shown briefly next to a van and a white car. One man extinguishes flames with a hose.

A militiaman opens a large backpack. “These are clothes,” he says as he pulls out folded jeans and shirts. Other men pick up documents and luggage. “A battery,” he says as men rifle further. “Some device and the charger from it.”

“Fuck. Passenger plane was fucked,” a voice offscreen says later. At one point the man filming shows the ID card with “KLIA” written on it, apparently the access card for flight crew at Kuala Lumpur international airport.

Another blood-stained backpack shows a luggage tag with “Australian” written on it.

People wear T-shirts stating: “MH17 one year in the skies” outside the Dutch embassy in Kiev, on the first anniversary of the crash.
People wear T-shirts stating: “MH17 one year in the skies” outside the Dutch embassy in Kiev, on the first anniversary of the crash. Photograph: Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images

The Netherlands, Malaysia, the UK and Australia this month sought the creation of a UN tribunal to prosecute those suspected of shooting down the plane.

“Justice must be delivered for the 298 innocent people who lost their lives,” Philip Hammond, the UK foreign secretary, said on Friday. Ten Britons died in the tragedy.

“That requires an international tribunal, backed by a resolution binding all UN member states, to prosecute those responsible.”

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, argued against the “prematureness and counterproductiveness” of creating a tribunal, according to a Kremlin statement on Thursday.

The Dutch flag flies at half-mast above the Ministry of Defence in The Hague in commemoration of the victims of MH17.
The Dutch flag flies at half-mast above the Ministry of Defence in The Hague in commemoration of the victims of MH17. Photograph: Remko de Waal/EPA

A leaked draft of the findings of the Dutch Safety Board, which is leading the MH17 investigation, blames a surface-to-air missile fired from a village under the control of Russia-backed separatists. The report will be finalised in October.

In Hrabove, the village nearest to where the plane landed, about 200 residents carrying flowers gathered in a church for a memorial service and procession to nearby fields on Friday.

Organised by local leaders and the Russia-backed separatists who control the area, the procession mainly consisted of women and children, who carried icons and chanted Orthodox liturgical music. The perimeter of the procession was guarded by men in Soviet military uniforms.

About 100 people carried the flags of the countries of the victims as well as the separatist flags and stood by a small stone at the crash site which bore a plaque saying: “To the memory of 298 dead, innocent victims of the civil war.”

Some of the mourners held banners, accusing the Ukrainian government of waging a war on them and likening the MH17 victims to those killed in indiscriminate shelling in the past year and a half. “They killed you, but our people still get killed,” one banner said.

In Canberra, the prime minister, Tony Abbott, unveiled the plaque, set in earth that a police officer brought back from Ukraine, listing 40 victims “who called Australia home”.

 Tony Abbott lays a wreath for the Australian victims of MH17 at a new memorial outside Parliament House in Canberra.
Tony Abbott lays a wreath for the Australian victims of MH17 at a new memorial outside Parliament House in Canberra. Photograph: Dave Gray/AP

“He knew that the place where MH17 came to rest was sacred and that a piece of it should come back to Australia,” Abbott said.

In the Netherlands, hundreds of relatives of those killed on MH17 were gathering on Friday afternoon at a conference centre near the central city of Utrecht for an event organised by the relatives themselves. It was to feature music, dance and the reading out of the names of all 298 victims.

Flags on government buildings around the country hardest hit in the disaster – 196 of the victims were Dutch nationals – were flying at half-mast throughout the day.

More than 6,000 people have been killed in the conflict in Ukraine, after fighting erupted in the country’s east when the Moscow-backed president was ousted and Russia annexed Crimea.

Associated Press contributed to this report


Oliver Holmes and agencies

The GuardianTramp

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