Images thought to show Russian separatist fighters wearing military uniforms rummaging through the personal belongings of MH17 victims have surfaced on the Internet.
The suggestion that these belongings are being looted has been met with outrage from the international community.
The images, which are yet to be verified, highlight increasing international fears that the investigation into the crash and the ongoing clear up is less that up to par. The Dutch, Malaysian, Australian, British and US investigators have been keen to be allowed access to the site. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott made a hard announcement on Monday that he thought the crash site was ‘shambolic’.
The 109-square-kilometre crash site, spread out over farmland, villages and flanked by an orphanage have been devastated by the debris and the carnage that litters the streets and fields. As midday temperatures soar to around 30 degrees the removal of the remains have become a priority as the smell of decomposition fills the air.
One man helping to clear the site said that the “smell is really bad but the whole thing, this tragedy, is worse.”
Witnesses report seeing bodies fall from the air. Children from the local orphanage told reporters that it was like “Big birds flying to us from the sky”, while a woman working at the orphanage said “it was almost biblical.”
Due to the nature of the crash it has been difficult to identify some of the bodies as many have missing body parts. It has been left to a handful of locals and pro Russian forces to make order of the chaos.
One image, which surfaced on Twitter, appears to show a blonde-haired fighter, wearing a black beret, hunched over what looks to be a pile of wreckage and personal affects. He seems to have taken a particular interest in a gold ring.
First tweeted in Russian by the user ‘stabilizec’ images such as these have raised concerns that militiamen and volunteers helping to move the bodies and clear the wreckage may be open to pocketing high value items found beneath the rubble. Perhaps even from the bodies themselves.
The online backlash was swift and furious as people took to social media to vent their fury at the possibility that people could be benefitting from the items left by the 298 souls lost on board flight MH17.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has publicly denounced the the looting as a ‘sickening violation of an already tragic scene’.
“The bodies sitting on a refrigerated train have still not been allowed to leave. And the pictures of victims’ personal belongings being gone through are a further sickening violation of this already tragic scene.” He said.
Although some people have suggested the hunting for items could be in the pursuit of identifying individuals – this suggestion has done little to dampen the fears that crash site has become something of a mess.
Militiamen trampled over the remains of the aircraft searching within minutes of the flight coming down in pursuit of the black box and photographs have been published of local residents wandering through the site for little reason at all.
A Sky News reporter publicly apologized after he rifled through the luggage of a passenger on a piece to camera. Fury over the insensitivity accorded to the site is marred by the deeper fear that the site is too open to potential looting.
Other footage given to a BBC reporter on site provides fresh evidence that forces took away material that could have proved crucial for crash investigators.
The militia leader who shot the film, named only as ‘Zhuk’, attempted to justify his men’s actions.
‘We looked at their belongings because we were searching for documents. Then we put them in a truck and took them away for sorting,’ he told the BBC.
The potential looting controversy comes after leaders from around the world blasted pro-Russian forces for 'manhandling' the bodies.
In Australia following a weekend of mourning there has been a public call for the bodies to be sent home. 28 Citizens and 9 residents of Australia perished in the crash.
Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans told Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko that his country was 'angry' and 'furious' by reports whilst an open letter to President Putin from a Dutch father who lost his only son, is keeping the families on the forefront of political discussion.
The remains will be handed to the Netherlands, which, at 192, had the greatest number of fatalities.
Conflicting information is still being drip fed into how the bodies are being sorted and stored and however the release of the bodies announced today will also enable crash international investigators to get access to the site.
On Tuesday Ukrainian officials announced all possible remains had been recovered and that of the 298 victims, 282 have been moved into a refrigerated train which has finally left Torez.
The remains from a further 16 bodies have also been recovered but are badly burned, officials explained.
The black boxes from the Malaysia Airlines plane are expected to be handed to Malaysian authorities.