The recovery of bodies in and around a group of villages in eastern Ukraine where a commercial jet was shot down has been frustratingly slow, and the horrible sight of bodies plummeting from the sky has not been enough to bring a moment of peace to this war-torn region.
“I thought everybody would ‘freeze,’ clasp their head in their hands and — in full realization of the horror that happened — say, ‘ That's it, let's stop this, let's be human. Let's bring in the experts, let the families get their bodies. And stop fighting!’,” a local journalist who only wanted to use his first name, Dmitry, over fears of being targeted for speaking to American media, told NBC News Saturday.
"Instead, they're turning it into a game of accusations, they are still settling scores! Each side is painting the other black, finger-pointing."
Despite the tragedy, which has been blamed on pro-Russian separatists, fighting raged on in the region, with the sound of rocket and artillery fire continuing even after the jet was shot down, Dmitry said.
At least 192 bodies of the 298 victims of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 have been found at the crash site, which stretches over 21 square miles around the towns of Shakhtersk, Snezhnoye, Grabovo and Torez near the Russian border. Pro-Russian separatists initially refused to let the remains be moved, but later acquiesced.
Monitors from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe were granted some limited access to the crash site Saturday, a day after the organization complained “visibly intoxicated” gunmen blocked their way to the crash site. For the first time Saturday, two days after the crash, rescue workers were seen removing some bodies and putting them in bags.
“The horrible thing was, bodies falling from the sky onto people's houses and backyards,” Dmitry said. “And the bodies stayed there until today — only tonight there was some attempt to remove them from people's backyards. Only today.”
Officials have not determined who shot down the plane, but U.S. and other officials are certain the jet was struck by a surface-to-air missile. On Saturday, Ukraine accused Russia and pro-Moscow rebels on Saturday of destroying evidence to cover up their guilt in the shooting down of the Malaysian airliner.
There have also been reports that credit cards have been looted from the crash site. The Dutch Banking Association said Saturday that banks have taken “preventative measures” against possible fraud, and promised that any next of kin would be reimbursed for any thefts. Of the 298 passengers and crew aboard the plane, 193 were Dutch.
The Dutch prime minister Saturday issued a warning to Russian President Vladimir Putin to take a more active role in the investigation. The Russian leader initially said Ukraine “bears responsibility” for allegedly continuing the conflict in the area.
"He has one last chance to show he means to help," Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said after a telephone call to Putin. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday told Russia’s foreign minister that the U.S. is “very concerned” over reports the remains of victims and debris have been tampered with.
Dmitry, who has visited the crash site every day from nearby Donetsk, said what few emergency workers have arrived on the scene seem disorganized and rattled by the ongoing fighting.
“These emergency workers look baffled, lost, they don't know what they are supposed to be doing. And there aren't many of them. While time is running out,” he said.
— With Phil Helsel
Reuters material was used in this report.
First published July 19 2014, 5:06 PM