A harrowing picture is emerging of the activity on the ground at the crash site of the Malaysian Airlines jet shot down by a missile over disputed Ukranian territory last week.
The Australian reported this morning that Ukranian forces mounted what it called an “anti-terrorist” operation assault against pro-Russian rebels, following a claim that the separatists were trying to remove wreckage from the site of the crash, which killed 298 people including 28 Australians.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott this morning described the situation as “outrageous”, and repeated his calls for Russia to support an international, independent investigation. Abbott said on ABC’s Insiders that “unfortunately there is no one in authority, in charge on the ground.”
The crash site is huge, some 25 square kilometres in total, in the area of eastern Ukraine under the control of pro-Russian separatists. There are reports of looting, and pictures have emerged of bodies being moved around the scene, although it is unclear who is moving them, and to where.
Temperatures hit around 30C during the day, and bodies lying out in the heat are starting to decompose.
Buzzfeed’s Max Seddon reported:
Nobody seemed to know where the bodies would be taken. Ukraine wants them stored 185 miles north in Kharkiv, the only nearby city with the facilities to take them, but claims that rebels have already spirited 38 corpses to their nearby stronghold in Donetsk and conducted their own autopsies. With the wreckage from the crash spread out over a 10-square-mile radius, the many bodies still at the scene may fare worse.
Australian investigators have arrived in Kiev ready to help with the crash scene assessment and the repatriation of the bodies of the Australian victims.
There is an increasing body of evidence of Russian connections to the separatists obtaining and operating the Russian Buk missile system believed to have been used to shoot down the jet. It requires highly specialised training to operate.
Abbott said: “The Russians, as everyone has seen over the last 48 hours, are trying to wash their hands of this but it is impossible for Russia to wash its hands of something which happened in what is effectively Russian-controlled territory. It seems at the hands of Russian-backed individuals, most likely with a Russian supplied or facilitated weapon.”
The eyes of the world are on Russian President Vladimir Putin, with experts split on whether he will decide to de-escalate the situation, or destabilise it further.
Abbott said: “There’ve been at least two attempts now by investigators to get to the site but the first attempt was interrupted by gunfire, stopped by gunfire and I believe that the second attempt has also been significantly hampered. So, it is an absolutely chaotic site. The kinds of things that would normally be happening in an air crash site are simply not happening and this just makes it absolutely imperative, imperative that Australia does everything we can to recover the bodies, to ensure that the site is secured, a proper investigation is done and then justice is secured.”
He revealed that Russian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop had yet to speak to her Russian counterpart. “The only person who I have access to at this time, well the most senior person that I have access to at this time is the Trade Minister who was in Sydney yesterday for meetings connected with the G20,” Abbott said, “and he was left in no uncertain terms our concerns and our demands that Russia fully assist this inquiry.”