Tag Archives: Kiev

#MH17: Troops Move on Crash Site in Ukraine, Foiling Deal


Dutch police officers on Sunday in Donetsk, Ukraine. Dmitry Lovetsky/Associated PressDutch police officers on Sunday in Donetsk, Ukraine. Dmitry Lovetsky/Associated Press

ZUHRES, Ukraine — Just hours after the Malaysian government reached an agreement with Ukrainian separatists on Sunday over access to the crash site of a Malaysian airliner shot down in rebel territory, the Ukrainian military launched an operation to recapture the debris fields, again stalling international efforts to secure the site.

The heavy fighting threatened to torpedo hopes of a breakthrough and cause yet more delays in collecting evidence and retrieving the remaining bodies from the crash. Ukrainian security officials said they needed control over the site to prevent the pro-Russia separatists from destroying clues to the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

By Sunday evening, the Ukrainian advance had blocked a road leading from the provincial capital, Donetsk, to the airplane debris northeast of Shakhtyorsk, but it remained unclear whether government troops were in control of all or part of the approximately 14 square miles of debris fields.

Videos posted online appeared to show Ukrainian armored vehicles near the site, and reporters who visited earlier Sunday said insurgents were nowhere to be seen.

The combat spread out along the road in a fluid and chaotic scene, leaving it wholly unclear who controlled what. Fragments of rockets lay on the sunbaked macadam, and columns of black smoke rose along the horizon.

One separatist commander at a checkpoint outside Shakhtyorsk, about 10 miles from the crash site, said the Ukrainians had retaken the area, and a rebel leader, Alexander Borodai, confirmed that government troops were advancing.

“The attempts to clear militia from the crash site irrefutably show Kiev is trying to destroy evidence,” he told reporters in Donetsk. His claim was apparently intended to counter earlier allegations that the rebels had been tampering with evidence to hide their own role in the downing of the plane.

Separatists seemed to be in a state of alarm, driving in convoys of buses and armored vehicles out of Donetsk toward the fighting. They controlled the road as far as the town of Zuhres.


Area of rebel activity


The Malaysian jetliner, a Boeing 777-200, was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17 en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, killing all 298 people aboard. Ukrainian and American officials say the plane was shot down by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile fired by the rebels. Russia and the rebels have denied any involvement and blame Ukraine.

Ukraine and the United States have said repeatedly that Russia is providing military equipment to the separatists and claim to have evidence that Russia is firing artillery and rockets on Ukrainian military positions.

On Sunday, the Obama administration stepped up its public pressure on Moscow, as the State Department released intelligence images presented as evidence that Russian forces had fired across the border.

The images were said to show charred ground on the Russian side of the border, described as evidence of rocket launches into Ukraine. Another showed artillery pieces of a type found only in the Russian military, pointed toward Ukraine. Other images showed crater impacts inside Ukraine.

It was not possible to independently verify the images. They are from DigitalGlobe, which provides high-resolution satellite images and aerial photos; they were not from American spy satellites or surveillance aircraft. Small groups of foreign police officers and forensic experts have managed to reach the crash site, but efforts to secure it with larger contingents have repeatedly fallen through.

Part of a document released by the State Department on Sunday purporting to show evidence of rocket launches from Russia into Ukraine. The images in the document, which were provided by DigitalGlobe, were not from American spy satellites or surveillance aircraft and could not be independently verified. Credit Digital Globe, via U.S. State DepartmentPart of a document released by the State Department on Sunday purporting to show evidence of rocket launches from Russia into Ukraine. The images in the document, which were provided by DigitalGlobe, were not from American spy satellites or surveillance aircraft and could not be independently verified. CreditDigital Globe, via U.S. State Department.

Earlier Sunday, the prospects of a more robust foreign presence at the crash site seemed to have improved when the office of Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia announced in an email that he had reached an agreement with Mr. Borodai “to allow a deployment of international police personnel” to enter.

After the announcement, about 30 unarmed Dutch police officers left the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv intending to reach the debris fields. But fighting stopped the officers after they reached Donetsk, said a spokeswoman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The Dutch police deployment on Sunday, ordered overnight by the Ministry of Security and Justice in The Hague, reversed an earlier decision by the head of a Dutch police mission in Kharkiv. He had intended to delay movement toward the crash site until a vote on Thursday by the Ukrainian Parliament in Kiev that he said would provide a “legal basis” for the deployment of foreign police officers.

The Netherlands, whose citizens accounted for around two-thirds of the crash victims, is leading an international effort to get to the bottom of what happened to Flight 17.

Retrieving the Remains of Flight MH17: Russian Roulette

The area is tactically important for the Ukrainian military, which is trying to close access to Donetsk from the east, lest separatists in the city be resupplied and reinforced from the direction of the Russian border.

Clashes flared in half a dozen towns east of Donetsk on Sunday. There was also fighting to the north, with an artillery strike in the town of Horlivka reportedly killing at least 13 civilians.

The longer the crash site remains unguarded, the smaller the chances of recovering evidence. Responding to growing reports that the wreckage and passenger items had been tampered with, Australia said Sunday that it was sending unarmed police officers to the site to prevent any further meddling. Australia lost dozens of citizens on Flight 17.

“Our objective is to get in, to get cracking and to get out,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott of Australia said at a news conference in Canberra, the capital. Australia had considered allowing some of its officers to carry weapons, but Mr. Abbott said he had decided against that.

“This is a risky mission, no doubt about that,” he said, “but all the professional advice I have is that the safest way to conduct it is unarmed as part of a police-led humanitarian mission.”

Foreign access to the site has been hampered by problems from the start, with heavily armed rebels initially restricting the movements of foreign experts. In Kiev, Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said the Ukrainian troops intended to “liberate” the crash site to secure evidence.

The Ukrainian government has been loath to see foreign governments negotiate with the separatist leaders based in Donetsk, the capital of a self-declared republic that no foreign state, including Russia, has recognized. Malaysia has been particularly active in reaching out to the rebel leadership. It brokered a deal last week under which the rebels handed over the plane’s data and voice recorders, which they had seized at the crash site.

Andrew E. Kramer reported from Zuhres, and Andrew Higgins from Kharkiv, Ukraine. Chris Buckley contributed reporting from Hong Kong, and Michelle Innis from Sydney, Australia.


The New York Times.

After Flight #MH17 Crash, Agony, Debris and Heartbreak in Ukraine Villages


Villagers Near Malaysia Airlines Crash Site Feel Abandoned and Overwhelmed.

Warning: Contains graphic descriptions of victims of flight MH17.

By Paul Sonne, Margaret Coker and Alexander Kolyandr
Natalya Voloshina, mayor of Petropavlivka, Ukraine, outside the local village hall. The residents of Petropavlivka remain deeply distressed by what they saw when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crashed nearby on July 17. Paul Sonne for The Wall Street JournalNatalya Voloshina, mayor of Petropavlivka, Ukraine, outside the local village hall. The residents of Petropavlivka remain deeply distressed by what they saw when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crashed nearby on July 17. Paul Sonne for The Wall Street Journal.

PETROPAVLIVKA, Ukraine—Even before Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down, the war raging between Ukraine and pro-Russia rebels created crushing challenges for the mayor of this small, worn-down village.

Natalya Voloshina couldn’t pay municipal salaries, pensions or energy bills because money from the central government in Kiev was frozen. The coal mine where her husband and high-school sweetheart works largely shut down. The fighting was creeping closer.

Then the plane crashed. The cabin’s second-row overhead compartment is in a tree across from the village hall—and suitcases and clothes are in backyards and gardens of square-windowed cottages.

Villagers dashed into their basements, fearing a bomb attack. Residents in a nearby village ran for the church, certain that the world was coming to an end. A colleague of Ms. Voloshina screamed after being nearly hit by the plane’s cargo hold. Days later, the 43-year-old mayor found the bottom half of a man’s body in the shrubs next to her office. She has barely slept since then.

“I know that for others I need to look strong, assured and composed,” says Ms. Voloshina, her hands still trembling a week after the July 17 crash. “But when I’m not at work, I cry at home into my pillow.”

Flight 17 has gripped the world because of the deaths of 298 passengers and crew on the Boeing 777 and the geopolitical crisis triggered by the crash. But the disaster also includes the horror that has paralyzed three Ukrainian villages about 30 miles from the border with Russia. After the plane fell to earth, almost no one came to their rescue.

Father Sergei, the local priest in Hrabove, Ukraine, in his village's Russian Orthodox church. He was born in the area of the Flight 17 crash site and is now helping his parish cope with the emotional toll of the catastrophe. Alexander Kolyandr for The Wall Street JournalFather Sergei, the local priest in Hrabove, Ukraine, in his village’s Russian Orthodox church. He was born in the area of the Flight 17 crash site and is now helping his parish cope with the emotional toll of the catastrophe. Alexander Kolyandr for The Wall Street Journal.

While most of the bodies have been removed from the crash site, the roughly 6,500 residents of the villages remain traumatized by what they saw, trapped by debris and passengers’ belongings scattered across the local landscape. Pieces of other people’s lives haunt their own.

The plane’s cockpit and dozens of bodies plummeted into Rozsypne, about 2 miles from Petropavlivka. One body fell through a woman’s roof. A pilot strapped to a seat wound up next to a flight attendant in a nearby field.

Charred remains of an engine, landing gear and wings fell in a fireball next to Hrabove, with a tumbling storm cloud of at least 70 bodies, some of them largely intact.

Even Friday, an abandoned Winnie the Pooh stuffed bear still lay in a field between Hrabove and Petropavlivka. The sun is bleaching the pages of a Dutch-language version of Ivan Turgenev’s novel “Fathers and Sons” in the 85-degree heat.

No villagers on the ground died, but they are scared of what they might find next. No one with crash or cleanup expertise has told Ms. Voloshina or the other mayors what to do about the crash debris.

Officials in Kiev are largely cut off due to the war. Regional authorities and police are in disarray because of the rebel takeover, while foreign officials have been slow-moving or incommunicado. There is no money. The Dutch-led team that will investigate the crash hasn’t reached the scene.

“We asked what to do, how we should act, but no one said anything,” says Ms. Voloshina, a former mathematics teacher who grew up in Petropavlivka. She put on a formal purple dress and stood near the crash site this week, wringing her hands while trying to project an image of control.

She says she would have found volunteers to cordon off parts of the crash site, packaged passenger belongings in a specified way or gathered the plane’s debris in one place. Without expertise, she is afraid of doing something wrong, she says.

Trail of debris

Before the crash, residents in these villages were suffering under poverty, with pensions averaging $125 a month and miners’ wages at about $550. The violence has crippled local mines, closed factories and halted farm work. Some residents have fled. Others joined the fight.

For months, farmers in Hrabove heard the war creeping across the sunflower-swept hills. In June, village priest Father Sergei led residents in a peace procession on the Feast of All Russian Saints to pray that Hrabove would somehow be spared from the encroaching violence.

Pieces of Flight 17 landed feet from the cross where the procession ended, just missing the town. At home, Father Sergei fell to his knees to pray as an inferno covered in black smoke barreled through the sky toward Hrabove, a former Soviet collective farm.

Around the corner from the Petropavlivka village hall, a piece of Flight 17's fuselage remains in Mayor Natalya Voloshina's relative's cabbage patch more than a week after the crash of the Boeing 777. Paul Sonne for The Wall Street JournalAround the corner from the Petropavlivka village hall, a piece of Flight 17’s fuselage remains in Mayor Natalya Voloshina’s relative’s cabbage patch more than a week after the crash of the Boeing 777. Paul Sonne for The Wall Street Journal.

“We thought it was the end of the world,” the Orthodox priest says. He stayed on the ground in prayer, preparing to meet God, and then ran up the hill as burning pieces of the plane’s undercarriage and landing gear pelted a field like bombs. Then came a hail of bodies: arms, heads and fingers.

Farmers dashed to the village, afraid it would be engulfed by an inferno. Hrabove Mayor Vladimir Berezhnoi screamed at drivers and motorcyclists to get off the road as fire rolled across a field. When he saw bodies, Mr. Berezhnoi yelled at adults to take their children home.

A few miles away, Oleg Miroshnichenko, a retired miner who became the mayor of Rozsypne about 13 years ago, felt panic as he heard two loud blasts and watched the remains of about 40 passengers rain down on yards and homes. His phone started ringing off the hook.

“There’s a body here, a body there, another body,” he says.

Three bodies plunged into Rozsypne’s orphanage, with two landing in a bathroom area and one in the garden. Many of the dead passengers were naked.

Emergency workers from the Donetsk region arrived and started photographing and marking locations of the dead. The workers started putting out the fires in Hrabove and searching for bodies in the area. Rebels with guns came and stood guard.

Mayors of the three villages waited for word about whether they could move the human remains. No orders came. For days, separatists controlling the area fought with Kiev over who should probe the crash site. International monitors showed up but also gave no instructions. European and American officials refused to talk to the rebels directly and didn’t call the mayors at all.

“There should have been a command from Kiev or someone about what to do,” says the exhausted Mr. Miroshnichenko, sitting under a pair of birch trees outside Rozsypne’s village hall. He recalls being forced to bury friend after friend who died in coal mines where he worked for 25 years.

“In mines, you don’t remove a body until they investigate it,” he says.

A piece of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 waits to be collected outside a house in the village of Petropavlivka, Ukraine. Paul Sonne for The Wall Street JournalA piece of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 waits to be collected outside a house in the village of Petropavlivka, Ukraine. Paul Sonne for The Wall Street Journal.

Villagers and emergency workers decided to start bagging bodies that were rotting in the sun. Local miners joined the effort. Heartbroken residents had been pleading in tears for the bodies’ removal.

In Hrabove, the workers set up orange tents in the field amid the corpses and stayed night after night. Villagers brought borscht, water and bread.

The morning after the plane was shot down, residents gathered at the little Orthodox church. Father Sergei held a service under blue and white arches and old frescoes built in 1802. Officials asked for volunteers to search for more bodies. Local miners joined the effort.

The first monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe arrived in Hrabove the same day. Gun-toting rebels denied them full access to the crash site, according to the OSCE, which accused militants of being unprofessional and drunk.

Mr. Berezhnoi, Hrabove’s mayor, says no one sought him out. “They didn’t come to me or pay any attention to me,” he says.

Grief-stricken residents fear that fighting nearby will get worse in the wake of the crash. Asked if any psychological counseling is available, Mr. Miroshnichenko seems doubtful, since he already spends his own money to take out Rozsypne’s trash.

Before the crash, Mr. Berezhnoi says, he thought pain couldn’t get any worse than when his wife died a year ago and his mother died the year before.

The overhead bins from the front rows of the aircraft remain lodged in a tree across from the Petropavlivka village hall. Paul Sonne for The Wall Street JournalThe overhead bins from the front rows of the aircraft remain lodged in a tree across from the Petropavlivka village hall. Paul Sonne for The Wall Street Journal.

“I’m 60 years old, and I’ve never seen something as terrible as this,” he says. “And I’m sure I’ll never see anything this terrible for the rest of my life.”

In Hrabove, resident Lena Dolgova is trying to calm her teenage granddaughter, who keeps waking up with nightmares. For days, Ms. Dolgova walked by rotting bodies to reach the village’s only store. War put Hrabove on edge, but the crash sent it over.

“It’s like chapters from a book,” Ms. Dolgova says. “The day before the crash—and the day the rest of our lives began.”

In Petropavlivka, the suggestion that locals took the belongings of some crash victims offends Ms. Voloshina, the mayor. Her husband joined fellow miners who volunteered to comb the fields in search of bodies. They wore purple latex gloves and carted out the passengers on what looked like Soviet-era stretchers before placing the bodies in bags.

“It’s hard for him to talk,” Ms. Voloshina says. “He’s a tall, strong man, and he still has tears in his eyes from that.”

On Thursday, an elderly woman showed up at her office in tears and handed over a doll with the name Emma stitched in pink across its shirt. The woman was digging potatoes. Emma turned up instead.

Ms. Voloshina is keeping the doll in a purple plastic bag on top of a large pile of passenger belongings that villagers keep finding every day: suitcases, wallets, a USB cord, and on and on.

“We’re keeping them, we’re waiting,” Ms. Voloshina said. She vowed to get Emma home.

The Wall Street Journal.

Ukraine reports overnight rebel attacks on border


Residents examine a bomb shelter in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on July 24, 2014. The bomb shelter built in the 50 years of the last century and prepared by city's powers for using accommodates about 300 people. © AFPResidents examine a bomb shelter in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on July 24, 2014. The bomb shelter built in the 50 years of the last century and prepared by city’s powers for using accommodates about 300 people. © AFP

MOSCOW (AP) — The Ukrainian army on Friday claimed that soldiers came under artillery fire from the Russian side of the border overnight and were attacked by rebels in several other places in the restive east.

Ukrainian forces are trying to close in on the rebels, cutting them off from the border with Russia which Kiev believes is the source of arms and reinforcement. Moscow has vehemently denied a role in the conflict between pro-Russian separatists and government troops which has left more than 400 people dead and displaced tens of thousands.

In a statement on Friday, the headquarters of the government’s military operation in the east listed at least seven locations where rebels attacked Ukrainian troops. They also claimed that attacks on two locations including a border crossing were supported by artillery fire from Russia.

Late on Thursday, Ukrainian troops entered the town of Lysychansk, which has been in rebel hands for several months, the military press office said. Rebels on Friday morning admitted in comments carried by Interfax that they had to flee the town which is 70 kilometers (45 miles) north-west of the regional capital Luhansk.

International observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe on Friday were traveling to inspect the wreckage of the downed Malaysia Airlines plane and to search for more bodies. Human remains are still being found at the crash site more than a week after the plane went down.

All 298 people aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 — most of them Dutch citizens — were killed when the plane was shot down on July 17. U.S. officials say the Boeing 777 was probably downed by a missile fired by pro-Russian rebels, likely by accident.

Associated Press.

Russia Escalates war in eastern Ukraine. Overnight rebel attacks on border


Pro-Russian fighters ride a airborne self-propelled artillery gun Nona in downtown Donetsk, eastern Ukraine Thursday, July 24, 2014. While the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 last week riveted international attention on the Ukraine conflict, locals have been struggling for months with spiraling violence. The Ukrainian military, buoyed after the fall of rebel stronghold Slovyansk this month, is now trying to encircle Donetsk and cut off any supply routes from Russia. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)Pro-Russian fighters ride a airborne self-propelled artillery gun Nona in downtown Donetsk, eastern Ukraine Thursday, July 24, 2014. While the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 last week riveted international attention on the Ukraine conflict, locals have been struggling for months with spiraling violence. The Ukrainian military, buoyed after the fall of rebel stronghold Slovyansk this month, is now trying to encircle Donetsk and cut off any supply routes from Russia. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

MOSCOW (AP) — The Ukrainian army on Friday claimed that soldiers came under artillery fire from the Russian side of the border overnight and were attacked by rebels in several other places in the restive east.

Ukrainian forces are trying to close in on the rebels, cutting them off from the border with Russia which Kiev believes is the source of arms and reinforcement. Moscow has vehemently denied a role in the conflict between pro-Russian separatists and government troops which has left more than 400 people dead and displaced tens of thousands.

In a statement on Friday, the headquarters of the government’s military operation in the east listed at least seven locations where rebels attacked Ukrainian troops. They also claimed that attacks on two locations including a border crossing were supported by artillery fire from Russia.

Late on Thursday, Ukrainian troops entered the town of Lysychansk, which has been in rebel hands for several months, the military press office said. Rebels on Friday morning admitted in comments carried by Interfax that they had to flee the town which is 70 kilometers (45 miles) north-west of the regional capital Luhansk.

International observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe on Friday were traveling to inspect the wreckage of the downed Malaysia Airlines plane and to search for more bodies. Human remains are still being found at the crash site more than a week after the plane went down.

All 298 people aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 — most of them Dutch citizens — were killed when the plane was shot down on July 17. U.S. officials say the Boeing 777 was probably downed by a missile fired by pro-Russian rebels, likely by accident.

Associated Press.

#Reuters: #Gunmen said to chase investigators from #MH17 crash site


A part of the downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 is pictured in a field near the village of Grabove on July 23, 2014. © AFPA part of the downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 is pictured in a field near the village of Grabove on July 23, 2014. © AFP

KIEV/KHARKIV, Ukraine, July 24 (Reuters) – Gunmen chased investigators from the site where the Malaysian airliner crashed and “lunatics” were still making life difficult for those who wanted to find out what downed flight MH17, officials said on Thursday.

As foreign ministers from Australia and the Netherlands met Ukrainian officials to coordinate the investigation, the head of Ukraine’s Emergency Situations Service and the chief of a Dutch police mission said their work at the site was being hampered.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, however, said there had been no incidents, and that they had been joined by experts from Malaysia and Australia, which lost 28 citizens in the crash.

The West has called for a thorough investigation into the downing of flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine to get justice for the 298 people who were killed, but have voiced concern that the rebels were preventing investigators from doing their job.

“They took away our tents, the ones which were at our base camp,” Serhiy Bochkovsky, the head of the emergencies service, told a news conference in the eastern city of Kharkiv from where the remains of the victims are starting their journey home.

“We were allowed only our equipment and machinery and we were chased away at gunpoint.”

He did not say when this happened.

The head of the Dutch police mission in Ukraine also said it was difficult to get access to the site to look for more of the remains of the victims, many of whom were Dutch.

“But the process is not over, there are still remains in your country and it’s very hard to get there because there are some, and I would say it’s not politically correct, but there are still some lunatics there,” Jan Tuinder said.

“It’s very hard for us to get to the remains.”

Asked about the incidents, Michael Bociurkiw, an OSCE spokesman, said: “None whatsoever.”

The Netherlands formally took over the investigation into the crash from Ukraine on Thursday after the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution condemning the downing of the plane and demanding armed groups allow “safe, secure, full and unrestricted access” to the crash site.

In Kiev, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said she expected the separatists to allow a better international presence at the site.

“Now that the legal framework is in place … and that Ukraine has transferred legal responsibility to the Netherlands, we feel we’ll get more progress from the separatists,” she said.

Putting the Dutch in charge of the criminal investigation was a way to get around the opposition to the U.N. Security Council resolution voiced by Russia should Kiev lead the probe, Bishop said.

(Additional reporting by Alexander Vasovic in Donetsk; Editing by Giles Elgood)


Reuters