MH17 crash: Abandoned crime scene at Ukraine's Grabove
- 24 July 2014
- From the section Europe
In the grass, far from the road and the rest of debris, lay a lone red jar of Estee Lauder face cream.
The fields around Grabove are still littered with small, personal items, with parts of the plane and with things too gruesome to describe. They still hold vital clues to what happened to flight MH17.
But as the first bodies of passengers began arriving in the Netherlands on Wednesday, no-one was there to investigate. The crime scene felt abandoned. Malaysian, French and Russian reporters walked and drove past us, each asking whether we had seen any experts through the day. We hadn't.
Armed rebels guarded the road but anyone could wander through the crash site of MH17 and many have.
A pile of personal belongings laid out by the roadside has definitely changed since I first saw it. A little toy blue car is still there, so are keys, glasses and a laptop charger. But children's books are gone and so is the "I Love Amsterdam" t-shirt.
It was near that t-shirt that two days ago a coal miner came up to me, handing me an Indonesian passport. "Could you pass it on to someone? I found it in the field," he said.
Fifteen minutes later another miner, holding a red wallet and a pink ID card, approached us with the same request.
"I don't know who to give this to," he said handing me documents and credit cards of a Dutch passenger. I promised him we would pass it on to the emergency services, which we did.
The coal miners were brought it by the rebels to comb through the fields. They told me they were never given instructions on what to do with what they find. They seemed shaken by what they had seen.
Villagers around Grabove are still coming to terms with what happened.
Yulya, who didn't want to give her last name, was in the garden when the plane crashed in the field across a narrow road.
"It's a miracle it didn't hit us. The whole village would have been burned down," she said.
She tells me she can't stop thinking about the crash. "Remember those little shoes," her neighbour adds. They sob.
Their shock and grief are real but their community is also scared and defensive. "We'll pay the price for this. As soon as they finish investigating, they'll finish us off too," Yulya says.
Neither woman believes that pro-Russian rebels shot down the plane.
"I saw on television that they have proof that Ukrainians shot down the plane," she said. She watches only Russian networks.
Caught in the middle
Like the piles of personal belongings, the charred field across from Yulya's house has changed over the last few days.
We have watched cranes lift plane parts and move them around, as bodies were pulled out and pieces of aircraft re-arranged.
Many journalists and international observers witnessed how pro-Russian rebels cut into plane parts with diesel saws. Was it incompetence or something more sinister? We still don't know.
We also don't know what evidence may have been lost, or how many bodies are still missing in Ukraine.
The head of the Dutch forensics team Jain Tuinder said they would have to go back to the crash site to carry out another search.
"We will not leave until all remains have left this country so we will have to go on and bargain again with the people over there," he said referring to the pro-Russian rebels.
The rebels have promised secure access to the site, but fighting is getting worse and on Wednesday Ukraine said two of its military jets were shot down.
"Our boys got the bastards," a local commander in the area called Corsar told me referring to the downed jets.
He said the planes were preparing to hit their positions and civilian areas. He accused the Ukrainian side of provoking the confrontation.
"What are we supposed to do? Be patient while we are being attacked?"
"We have shot them down and we'll keep shooting them down," Corsar said.
In the meantime, caught in the middle of this mess are bodies of the still missing passengers of MH17.
Many of them may have not even know much about the conflict in Ukraine.
Children who were onboard that flight had probably never even heard of it.