Investigators jockey with rebels amid corpses

Rebels guarded a train station in Torez as OSCE inspectors waited for the doors of the trains carrying bodies to open.
Robert Ghement/European Pressphoto Agency
Rebels guarded a train station in Torez as OSCE inspectors waited for the doors of the trains carrying bodies to open.

GRABOVO, Ukraine — Three days after the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, fumes swirled above charred fields filled with blackened metal, human remains, and personal belongings in Grabovo, the village where much of what remains of the jet is scattered.

Grabovo, about 60 miles from the Russian border in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region, is where investigators hope to learn what happened to the Boeing 777 that crashed Thursday with 298 passengers and crew.

While Ukraine’s easternmost regions have grown accustomed to gunfire and explosions after months of fighting between pro-Russia separatists and government troops, the carnage has horrified Grabovo’s 1,000 residents.


The United States and others have said pro-Russia separatists are most likely responsible for firing the missile that downed the Boeing 777, and they were among the first people on the scene.

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Men with rifles, representatives of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, patrolled Grabovo and stood watch over those searching for victims and cataloguing remains. The insurgents have limited access to international investigators.

Belongings from the plane were gathered into piles in the fields. Among them were clothes, vinyl records, children’s books, passports, shoes, and eyeglass cases. The site over which debris was strewn extends well beyond Grabovo, according to Defense Ministry spokesman Andriy Lysenko, who also said the rebels had been looting the possessions of those who perished.

‘‘Cynicism of the militants went beyond all limits,’’ Lysenko said. ‘‘Apart from collecting private expensive belongings of passengers, terrorists are using credit cards of the victims.’’

Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, Volodymyr Hroisman, said armed, masked militia have kept guard over investigators. ‘‘You can imagine how to work there under guns. We have sent letters. We have appealed to all,’’ he said, adding there is no reason for any delays.