A Ukrainian militiaman who says he witnessed the downing of Malaysia Flight MH17 gave a vivid interview to Lorenzo Cremonesi of the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.
“We shot down a Kiev plane, our superiors told us,” said the pro-Russian rebel, who worked locally as a miner before the uprising in eastern Ukraine. “We thought we were looking for bailed-out Ukrainian pilots but instead we found dead civilians … All those poor people with baggage that certainly wasn’t military.”
On July 17, a flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down in Torez, located in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people onboard.
The fighter, from the Oplot (stronghold) combat unit, told Cremonesi that he and his colleagues saw “a huge explosion in the sky” and were prepared to fight paratroopers from “one of the Kiev Fascists’ planes” that commanders told them had been shot down.
“My men and I were looking for parachutes on the ground and in the trees,” the militiaman said. “All of a sudden, I saw scraps of material in a clearing. Underneath I found the body of a little girl, […] It was awful. That was when I realised it was a civilian plane. Not a military one. And all these dead people were civilians. A heap of burst suitcases confirmed it.”
Guardian correspondent Shaun Walker, who is reporting from the Donetsk region, summed up the Corriere della Sera report:
On the day of the incident, Igor Strelkov, a former Russian intelligence officer and leader of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic,” posted a message that discussed taking down a “Ukrainian transport aircraft” in the same area of the MH17 crash.
According to recorded conversations leaked by Ukraine’s security services (SBU), separatists at the scene subsequently realised the mistake.
The U.S. believes that the passenger jet was shot down by a Russian-made SA-11 surface-to-air missile.
Russia’s military suggested that a Ukrainian Su-25 fighter plane shot down the Boeing 777, which was flying at about 33,000 feet when struck by a missile. The Interpreter reported that the Su-25 can only fly as high as 23,00 feet without bombs.
Cremonesi, a war correspondent who was briefly abducted by Fatah in Gaza in 2005, reports that the Oplot militia unit identified the bodies and “watched over” the wreckage before guarding the mortuary wagons.
The bodies of most MH17 victims arrived in the Netherlands on Wednesday.
Quoted excerpts were translated from Italian by Giles Watson.
The rebel who reportedly spoke to Corriere della Sera is pictured patrolling the train cars during the inspection by international monitors on July 21.
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